Want to drink beer and make sustainable fertilizer? Urine luck!

pee hive sudwerk brewery co header
Sudwerk Brewery Co.
Urine collected from an outhouse behind Sudwerk Brewery Co. in Davis, California may help supply the next generation of fertilizers. By partnering with the craft brewery in the “sustainable fertilizer from urine project,” researchers from the University of California, Davis have developed the “pee hive,” a customized outhouse with a built-in pump, 250-gallon collection tank, and a urinal created from a sawed-off beer keg.

We excrete many of the nutrients we consume. These includes beneficial vitamins and minerals and the nutrients found in agricultural soils and fertilizers, which make their way into our food and drink. Salts, hormones, vitamins, and pharmaceuticals often end up flushed down the drain and diluted with waste water. With this in mind, UC Davis environmental engineer Harold Leverenz, sanitary engineer Russel Adams, and graduate student Jessica Hazard embarked on a journey to reclaim these nutrients from our waste.

“Our goal was to extract the primary agricultural nutrients — such as nitrogen and phosphorus — in a high-purity, pasteurized, safe, and concentrated form, with minimum energy input,” Leverenz told Digital Trends. Although Leverenz pointed out that urine is sometimes used as fertilizer in rural areas, this isn’t the most sanitary or socially acceptable practice in cities. So, the team looked to develop a compact, manageable, and automated technology that could be installed in urban areas.

A craft beer bar made for a good partner given the openness of many independent breweries to alternative methods, “not only in brewing, but also in environmental awareness and sustainability,” Leverenz said. From using recycled water to organic and local ingredients, craft breweries push the envelope on quality and sustainable practices. But it isn’t just the companies who have a sustainability-oriented outlook — Leverenz thinks craft beer drinkers tend to be curious and supportive of environmental initiatives as well.

Sudwerk and the UC Davis researchers decided to create an outhouse that complemented the bar’s aesthetic while living up to the project’s ethos. After considering a few different design concepts, they settled on a six-sided structure made of corrugated sheet metal — to match fermentation tanks — which had no construction waste and could be easily disassembled, moved, and reassembled by a single person. The outhouse’s hexagonal shape earned it its punny name — the pee hive.

About once a week, Leverenz and his team carefully load the 250-gallon collection tank onto a pickup truck and transport their haul to a treatment facility, where they can process some 100 gallons of urine per day in a three-step process that turns urea to ammonia, evaporates the ammonia into ammonium carbonate, and adds Epsom salt to collect the additional phosphate left over. This method extracts most of the nitrogen and phosphate, and leaves behind undesirable drugs and chemicals.

With a working system, Leverenz and his colleagues now hope to collect enough urine-derived fertilizers to permit a comparison against common fertilizers used in agriculture.


From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.

Our favorite fitness trackers make it fun to keep moving

Looking for your first fitness tracker, or an upgrade to the one you're already wearing? There are plenty of the wrist-worn gadgets available. Here are our picks for the best fitness trackers available right now.

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now, from Super Mario Odyssey to Fortnite.

Take to the skies with these 5 drones on sale for under $50

On the hunt for some cool tech for under $50? We've rounded up 5 drones under $50 that you can still get before Christmas. These models are great for kids, adults, and anyone just getting started with drones.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Emerging Tech

This unusual nature-inspired robot is equally at home on land or in the water

This intriguing, nature-inspired robot may look unusual, but it's impressively capable of moving on both land and water without problem. Heck, it can even travel on ice if necessary.
Emerging Tech

This cryptocurrency wallet for kids isn’t nearly as stupid as it sounds

So you’ve taught your 6-year-old child to read, write, and play nice with others. What’s next? Give them a base understanding of cryptocurrency, of course. This Kickstarter aims to help.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

Virgin Galactic’s latest test flight takes it to the edge of space

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has successfully carried out its fourth powered flight in Mojave, California. It was the company's most ambitious test flight yet -- and bodes well for the future.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

There’s a giant EMP blaster in New Mexico. Don’t worry, it’s here to protect us

An electromagnetic pulse has the potential to disable virtually all electronics within a large area. To help protect against such a threat is a new, friendly EMP emitter. Here's how it works.