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storing source separated urine

 
steward
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hey folks. any amateur or professional chemists or biologists want to help me out?

I've gotten myself involved with a project to build composting latrines for a school that's under construction. there will be at least a couple of modifications, but this here is the basic plan. the, um, goods will be stored in poly barrels to ripen, both solid and liquid (separated, of course). I'm trying to talk the team into including black soldier flies in the design, but I've got a question that I haven't been able to find much information on: urine storage.

we want to avoid undue odors and volatilization of nitrogen. the first idea was a standard p-trap, but I think that's been all but abandoned, both because it probably would not solve the odor problem and because we guessed scale would quickly clog up a p-trap.

what about a layer of oil in the urine storage barrels? would that trap odors in and prevent nitrogen from escaping the way it prevents water from evaporating? I think some of the more popular water-free urinals I've seen around town work on this principal. is nitrogen and odor a function of exposure to oxygen, or just an issue of vapor pressure? is there a microbiological angle I'm missing? anything I'm missing? any other advice?

I'm new to the project, but it sounds like approval by the AUTHORITIES was contingent on aging the urine to eliminate risk of pathogens. then it will be used to fertilize local gardens. there's a greywater plan in the works for hand-washing sinks, so there might be a greywater solution for the urine at some point, but that's down the road a way.

all in all, it seems like a good project. that there are two or more government agencies involved obviously complicates things a bit, but I think there's good work to be done on that front, too. so what do you all think?
 
Mother Tree
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I spoke to my other half about this. He was raised in the Midlands of the UK in the 1940s.

The toilets in common use at the time were basically small steel barrels with a wooden bench across the top, complete with a hole for pooping and peeing through. He doesn't remember there being a lid, but they used a layer of some kind of oil to keep smells in and flies out. He can't remember very well (it was a long time ago...) but he thinks it worked pretty well at controlling smell. Every week, or maybe fortnight, the council would send a special lorry around and Dan-Dan-the-lavatory-man and his mate would turn up and either carry the barrels out to empty them into the lorry, or if they were too full and heavy they would decant them into a tin bath and carry that out instead.

He said any oil would be used - he has memories of used sump oil or diesel, but I would seriously avoid those, especially where the contents were intended for a garden. He can't remember how much oil was used - "just enough to cover it" is the best he can come up with.
 
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Sounds like a good use of waste veggie oil dregs--the stuff that you really shouldn't be trying to filter into diesel. And then purposefully add oil eating bacteria to decompose the whole thing at the end, but maybe the oil content is low enough the bsf or worms will eat it all.

You will want just enough to make a film over the top, and choose an oil that won't solidify while deposits are being made. So you need a thinner oil in the winter.
 
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Professional environmental microbiologist here...

Urea in urine will break down to ammonium ions (and ammonia gas, thus the volatilization and smell) - and some of this will be nitrified to nitrate by aerobic bacteria and archaea (ammonia oxidizers or nitrifiers, coupled with nitrite oxidizers or nitrosifiers). These 'guilds' of microbes (in the traditional ecological science sense of the word 'guild') work together to turn that ammonia/um (NH3/NH4+) to nitrate (NO3-). Nitrite or nitrate itself doesn't stink, but these organisms need oxygen to do this! Once the oxygen is gone, the ammonia will mostly just be taken up directly by cells (immobilization) into biomass. If anaerobic, this will be slow.


Also, any nitrate produced by the nitrification when there -WAS- oxygen around (and there is always at least some, unless you are in a hermetically sealed chamber with the O2 scrubbed out intentionally) is going to be food for denitrifiers, another guild of bacteria that complete the nitrogen cycle, thus turning that nitrate back into ammonia (stink) or gases (unusable by plants) - namely N2 which is 79% of our atmosphere, NO (reactive, creates acid rain) and N2O (laughing gas, but 300x times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide).


So, in general, I would discourage trying to cultivate an anaerobic chamber for the urine - you'll lose N, it will still be stinky, and it would be more 'pollution' than if you were to keep it aerobic. Plus, unless your holding tank was tall and skinny, it might need a fair amount of oil (the gasses would still bubble up out of it). The slurry would also get acidic over time (start off going alkaline up to pH9, but over time, then drops to pH < 3). I guess aside from scaling up a p-trap for leaching (probably my favorite option), one could do some active sawdust composting (i've done this with some success), but this is labor intensive, requires constant input of raw materials, and is still kind of stinky. But you'd avoid making an acidic substrate, the compost would retain the highest amounts of N per volume of urine treated (although subsequently diluted by the sawdust component), and you'd keep down the greenhouse gas production.


My gears have turned on this for a bit from time-to-time over the years, and I would love to hear what you come up with!

(edited for spelling)
 
tel jetson
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thanks, Christian.

scaling up a p-trap for leaching: I'm not totally clear what you mean.

what about oil just in the p-trap? it would be a much smaller volume of both urine and oil and the whole thing could be flushed and renewed regularly. I'll check to see if sawdust is available nearby for storage. a crumbly product might be marginally more difficult to handle than a liquid one, but I like the advantages.
 
Christian Gerald
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Oh, I was thinking scale as in 'engineer for greater capacity' and allow it to drain to a leach field of some sort - although after re-reading your post, I agree scale as in 'mineral deposit' in the p-trap would be a concern.

If flushed once in a while (maybe using water from small cistern plugged to outhouse roof drainway?) maybe the residual would sufficiently dilute to prevent build-up of struvite/apatite mineralization, but I still see buildup in conventional flush toilets where folks 'let it mellow.'

If collecting and replacing the container frequently, I guess oil would be fine, but I have no idea how much you'd end up going through. I'd be interesting to experiment. If this stuff is all getting composted anyway, my experience was that continual sawdust addition keeps the smell down until the bucket is replaced (i started to notice the 5 gal bucket needed attention about halfway full, ~every week for a family of 4). Also, the oil would take longer to break down in the compost than if it were just browns and pee. I just wonder if the cost/effort to source the oil would justify the decrease in smell.

Maybe have it drain into a wood chip bioreactor? Wouldn't have to be fancy - maybe keep it punx by having a french drain (perforated pipe) into a buried but accessible sawdust trench outflow, where the sawdust/leaves/browns are periodically removed/refreshed? If allowed to drain greywater style into a leach field, that inorganic N gets immobilized more quickly by plants and soil microbes than it would sitting in a bunch of sawdust - but I'd want to prevent nitrate leaching through the soil profile (nitrate is the speediest form of plant-available N that can move through the soil) by lining a trench with clay or something impervious. I remember talking to Abel Kloster about something they had like that at Aprovecho in Cottage Grove, OR.

As for the efficacy of woodchip bioreactors, it would be effective until it needed to be recharged - midwest conventional ag leaches lots of nitrate from ammonia applications, and now some folks are piloting research where they pump their drain-tile flowage through woodchip bioreactors to immobilize N. but that's just a whole mess of problems that could be solved by applying just about every other post in this forum.
 
tel jetson
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what's the time scale for all that nitrogen action? the design right now is for several latrines each with their own collection, but maybe it would be better to have central urine collection so that there's less latency in the system. barrels could be closed up faster with the same volume of urine, or at least decoupled from the toilets to prevent odor.

would waxing the inside of the p-traps prevent scale?
 
tel jetson
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another detail: very shallow soils above bedrock, so leach fields aren't a great option here.
 
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Hi,

To avoid gaseous NH4 emissions, you can also lower the pH with lactic acid bacteria, by fermenting the urine. For this you need to add some Sauerkraut juice (or similar) into your canister, and add a little bit of sugar. The bacteria will grow on the sugar and a little bit of N, and the pH will be low enough to avoid emissions. If I remember well 3 kg of sugar per person/year are needed according to a german university (TUHH).

I built this waterless urinal in my former flat (INDOORS!) with a canister, a funnel and a piece of pipe. Some Sauerkraut juice and some dumpster dived dirty sugar, and I had some healthy plants in my garden! It was a great fertilizer that can be stored without smell during the winter.
My flatmate moved out and found someone else to move in, and she found it quite strange but had to say that it didn't smell.

best

 
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For your situation, the simplest method to eliminate odours venting up through the urine tubing is to ensure that the end of the tubing is installed the bottom of the collection/storage vessel and at all times below the liquid level. Gasses created in the stored urine can then not travel up the length of the tube/pipe to the user. The tubing should be installed with minimal bends and no traps or low points where urine can be collected. Occasional flushing with water or ice cubes in the urinal can be a simple maintenance procedure.

The following discussion threads from the SUSANA forum discuss this topic, as well as other valves, manufactured cartridges and using oil in traps to eliminate and prevent odours: http://forum.susana.org/forum/categories/172-urinals/11174-how-to-shift-easily-urinal-to-waterless-urinal- and http://forum.susana.org/forum/categories/172-urinals/6679-simple-urine-valves-to-control-odour-on-waterless-urinals-or-on-urine-diversion-toilets

 
hans muster
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P Lyons: The pipe will eliminate some smell during the filling, but you will still have to work in the smell and have emissions while using it on the fields.

Something I forgot to mention: the low pH of the fermenting, as well as the high pH of not fermenting, will both hygienize the urine if you store it for some time.

Another way to store the urine is in biochar:
You have the disadvantage of not being able to use it as a liquid, which is easier to transport. You would have to work with buckets, as canisters cannot be emptied (I can tell by experience) But, on the other hand, the nutrients are absorbed/adsorbed to the biochar and do not wash out into the groundwater. The nutrients are exactly on the spot where the roots are and not polluting rivers.

A link about the study "Fourfold Increase in Pumpkin Yield in Response to Low-Dosage Root Zone Application of Urine-Enhanced Biochar to a Fertile Tropical Soil"
http://www.ithaka-institut.org/ithaka/media/doc/1444997135931.pdf

I would still first ferment the urine and then apply it to the biochar, because of the benefits of the lactic acid bacteria and the ease of use. But everyone has his own location and ways of working.
 
tel jetson
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great information, gang. I'll certainly take the EcoSmellStop idea to the next meeting, as well as the lactic fermentation option. sugar for the fermentation plan might be an issue, but it's certainly worth looking into.
 
P Lyons
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Thanks to all for the useful information presented.

Hans: Do you have any recommendations or examples of the best methods to absord/adsorb the collected urine into the biochar ie. proportions for the mass of biochar to the volume of urine and the use of commonly available materials etc.? Are there additional advantages resulting from the fermentation of urine that make charging of the biochar more effective, other than odour prevention and N - Loss?

Thanks for the link the Ithaka Institute, I spent the last day reading up on the biochar information available from that site. I have always applied collected urine from my applications directly to the soil or stored for short periods of time and then directly added to my compost piles, I am now keen on making some biochar and experimenting with the fermentation process you presented and making some urine enhanced biochar.
 
hans muster
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Do you have any recommendations or examples of the best methods to absord/adsorb the collected urine into the biochar ie. proportions for the mass of biochar to the volume of urine



-Some people directly pee into a bucket of biochar. There is no smell, but you have no hygienisation.
-Or you just add the stored (or fermented) urine to the biochar.
-Or you quench the coal with urine instead of water.

-For the proportion of urine and biochar: It is really difficult to say.
Urine is really variable, according to wikipedia a human pees between 0.6 to 2.6 l a day (with about the same total dry matter content).
Biochar has a really variable cation exchange capacity, (CEC) depending on the feedstock, the pyrolysis temperature, etc.
You can try it for yourself by taking 10 buckets of biochar of the same volume, and add different volumes of urine. Then you smell it: the first one where you smell something is where you have reached the sorbtion capacity. (although it is tricky as I do not know which compounds are sorbed prioritarily)

and the use of commonly available materials etc.?



Is your question related to what feedstocks you can use to make biochar? If so, anything that is a waste otherwise. From rise husks, straw, twigs, woodshawings... The Kon-Tiki, the biochar kiln of Ithaka (used to make the biochar of the pumkin study) works with a broad range of feedstocks, but the heat is wasted. Some small kilns (like TLUD, whirly girl...) usually work on a narrower range of feedstock if you cannot adjust the hole sizes.
Please just don't take biochar from deforestation.

Are there additional advantages resulting from the fermentation of urine that make charging of the biochar more effective, other than odour prevention and N - Loss?



I know of someone who did some research on Lactobacillus to treat seeds, and had some good results, better than the control.
Some people are fans of EM, and reporting beneficial effect. I prefer to work with things I can do myself, and Lactic acid bacteria seem to do the job.

Glad you enjoyed the Ithaka Institute, I also spent a few days there...

Later I will write more about biochar
 
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How about an exhaust system that runs fumes through a carbon filter? If they work for cannabis, they should work for pee fumes.

I also think that incorporating biochar in any way feasible would be fantastic. I don't know if your municipal area allows burning of wood waste at the landfill, but maybe a pit for charring would be a short term compromise (in lieu of a retort or something) that could give you a lot of charcoal cheap and fast. With a backhoe you could dig the pit, feed the fire, and bury the coals to cool pretty easily
 
tel jetson
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J W Richardson wrote:
I also think that incorporating biochar in any way feasible would be fantastic. I don't know if your municipal area allows burning of wood waste at the landfill, but maybe a pit for charring would be a short term compromise (in lieu of a retort or something) that could give you a lot of charcoal cheap and fast. With a backhoe you could dig the pit, feed the fire, and bury the coals to cool pretty easily



I like the biochar idea. one of the other folks involved did a research project using biochar to filter water, so there's some technical experience available. we've talked about that a little bit. biochar would be a better ag amendment than diluted urine, too. there certainly won't be any backhoes available, but plenty of folks with shovels.

a huge design consideration is ease of use and maintenance. there isn't a lot of confidence that things will be reliably maintained and operated properly, so any ideas that would complicate the design or operation even a little bit are meeting resistance. using biochar would definitely fall into the category of complicating operation. there might be opportunities for improvement later, once we're able to monitor how the basic design is being used for a while. I'll be visiting the site for the first time in December and we'll do some evaluation of the facilities that were built last year then.

I'm holding onto hope that we can add biochar and fermentation and soldier flies and worms to the mix eventually. I'm quite confident that all of those would dramatically improve the function of the system without complicating things too much, but my intuition isn't enough in this situation.
 
J W Richardson
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The idea of fermenting urine to sterilize and deodorize is new to me, so took a while to get my head around it. I want to try it here and see how it goes, I really like the idea of some official hygienization process happening before charging. I imagine the high ph of the char would inhibit the process, so, two steps?
It could be fairly simple to keep the tank fermenting, then apply it onto char for charging.
 
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I've been thinking about this problem for a while, as I am planning my own home/permie project to include the collecting/filtering/storage/utilization of urine, as well as grey-water treatment systems. The best ideas that I have include char, soil, and plants, but I really like the idea of additional fermentation processes.

One idea that I like about the Solviva project (that has been mentioned in forums here and has a great book written about it) was that the author dealt with the smells of the chicken operation that heated the greenhouse from behind a north wall of water by using the soil in the greenhouse as a filter of the smelly chicken air. I believe the author also claimed that this process was fertilizing the soil through the nutrients (nitrogen) in the gasses.

My idea is to have a greenhouse or more likely a solarium (insulated except for the south wall of glass) set up for the purpose of being a liquid waste bio-digester. In this solarium, there would be primary charge bins (this could be a place to add fermented liquids). These would be full of char and fall leaves, and worms, and would filter the waste liquids, which would dump into subsequent bins. The subsequent bins could be mostly filled with the char leaf and worm mix, but would have a top layer of soil with plants like cattails in it (which clean the system through oxygen in their root zone). Further bins in the system with deeper soil above the water line and could have deeper rooted biomass plants like comfrey, for instance. The cattails and comfrey would transpire the water out of the system, and convert some of the nutrients into plant form and thus provide cut biomass for use in compost bins, or mulch. If one wanted to use the char (now biochar) from the system, one could easily flush it with water, then drain it, and the char/worm/leaves could be deposited in the mulch/compost/hugulkultur or other plant/garden systems. I would imagine cleaning (mining!!!) the system once every couple or three years, although it could run longer with larger bins. Of course the perpetual mining of the plant tops might be a better solution, if it could be set up large enough to not have to change out the char.

Another idea would be to combine the larger run-off of a grey-water system with the urine system to dilute the urine, and make it more plant accessible.

Still brainstorming this.

As for the grey-water, after the initial filter bin it would need more area and more plants, so as to deal with the greater flow of water, but it would be a much cleaner system then a system of straight urine, and thus would need less char and could be basically a filter for run-off into more open systems growing food directly. The ideas expressed in the later modules of the Earthship books have systems that use grey-water to grow an indoor swamp; although they do not use urine in those systems, the Solviva book documents the use of urine (diluted with 10X volume of water) to grow plants.

If your project is a school, great classes, experiments, and projects could be based around all of this great bio-science.
 
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