BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — The Rich Earth Institute is one step closer to developing a self-contained system for turning human urine into a sanitized and purified fertilizer thanks to a $225,000 grant.
The small research group was recently awarded the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research grant, according to a Rich Earth Institute press release. The grant will support continued development of the system, which uses commercially available urine-diverting toilet fixtures to collect urine that is then used for fertilizer.
“With further refinement, this system could be a more affordable and sustainable alternative to the advanced septic systems that are required in many sensitive watersheds,” the release states.
The system, designed and built by Research Director Abraham Noe-Hays, has been piloted in an engineering building at the University of Michigan and controlled remotely from the Vermont institute. The Rich Earth Institute works in partnership with the University of Michigan through a separate National Science Foundation grant.
“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” Andrea Belz, director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at the National Science Foundation, said in the press release.
The newly acquired funding allows the Rich Earth Institute’s team to hire additional specialists and build the next version of its treatment system at the research center in Brattleboro.
The organization underwent a merit-based review process to receive the grant. Successful completion of this project will make the Rich Earth Institute eligible for a second grant of up to $750,000 to continue the urine treatment system’s development.
The Rich Earth Institute also recently took ownership of its research center at 355 Old Ferry Road. The small company had rented space in the building since 2016, transforming the warehouse into a research and development facility. There, the research team tests urine-diverting toilets and processing equipment, analyzes urine-derived fertilizer and showcases the effect of the fertilizer in a demonstration garden.
As building owners, the research group can use the rest of the space to accommodate more staff members, and can greatly increase fertilizer storage capacity with new access to 24,000 gallons of underground tanks.
When it is safe to hold large public gatherings again, the Rich Earth Institute plans to invite community members to tour the space and see its operations in person. In the meantime, anyone who wants to learn more about the Rich Earth Institute can visit