Human urine promotes biomass production

Posted: October 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’m attending the Water and Health Conference (  in North Carolina to learn more about sanitation practices and to present my work on using human urine as a fertilizer. Below is excerpts of my poster:

Why human urine?

Use of human urine has demonstrated significant increase in biomass production compared to no fertilizer application in various plants, such as cabbage, tomatoes and beets (Jonsson, Stintzing et al. 2004; Guzha, Nhapi et al. 2005; Tidaker, Mattsson et al. 2005; Mnkeni, Kutu et al. 2008; Pradhan, Holopainen et al. 2010). Promoting its use could help alleviate 2 global crises by:

1.    Providing access to affordable fertilizer to sustain the increasing population’s calorie intake

2.   Providing adequate sanitation to the 2.6 billion people who lack access to proper sanitation

There is a limited understanding of the long-term impacts on the biomass production and  the soil’s chemistry. This experiment was developed to simulate nine years of continuous use of human urine as a fertilizer with spinach. The data presented in this poster is on the biomass and does not included the soil analysis.

Experimental design

The experiment was located in Arla, Himachal Pradesh, India and conducted from June to October, 2011.

Human urine collection

  • Undiluted human urine was collected  from 14 volunteers and stored in 10 L containers for 34 days at 25 degrees Celsius
  • During storage the human urine stabilized at a pH of 9
  • The human urine was assumed to contain 6 g of nitrogen per liter

Field set-up

  • Three fertilizer treatments and a control (no fertilizer) simulated nine years of continuous fertilizer application (years 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9)
  • Replicated 3 times in space (blocks) for a duration of 32 days

Statistical analysis

  • Randomized complete block design (RCBD)
  • Performed with SAS software using Duncan pairwise procedure.

Null hypothesis:

Human urine, mineral fertilizer and combination treatments will have equivalent biomass production in each simulated year


Dry biomass produced per plant (Figure 3 and 4-A) from the human urine treatment was:

  • Significantly higher to the control for simulation years 5, 7 and 9
  • Not significantly different to the mineral fertilizer treatment, except for simulation year 9 where the average mass from the human urine treatment was significantly higher.
  • Significantly lower to the combination treatment at simulation years 3 and 5

Concentrations of nitrogen in the spinach tissue (Figure 4-B)were not significant different between the three treatments (human urine, mineral and combination) at increasing simulated year indicating the assumption of 6 g of nitrogen per liter was correct. All treatments had significantly  higher tissue nitrogen concentrations than the control.

Concentrations of sodium in the spinach tissue (Figure 4-C) from the human urine treatment was:

  • Significantly higher than all the mineral fertilizer treatments
  • Significantly higher than the combination treatment excepts for simulation years 3 and 9
  • Significantly higher than the control, except for simulation years 3 and 5

Moving forward

Farmers, especially those with out access to fertilizer, would benefit from using human urine as a fertilizer.  Spinach grown with human urine produced a greater biomass than no fertilizer and produced equivalent biomass to synthetic fertilizer. Human urine is combination with additional phosphate and potassium overall produced the highest spinach biomass. With continuous use, the survival rate of the spinach with the human urine treatment was higher  than with the mineral fertilizer. Salt sensitive plants may grow poorly in comparison.


CRRAQ (2010). Guide de référence en fertilisation, Centre de référene en agriculture et agroalimentaire du Québec,.

Guzha, E., I. Nhapi, et al. (2005). “An assessment of the effect of human faeces and urine on maize production and water productivity.” Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 30: 840-845.

Höglund, C. (2001). Evaluation of microbial health risks associated with the reuse of source-separated human urine. Department of Biotechnology. Stockholm, Royal Institute of Technology. Doctoral

Jonsson, H., A. R. Stintzing, et al. (2004). Guidelines on the Use of Urine and Faeces in Crop Production. EcoSanRes Publication Series. Stockholm, Stockholm Environment Institute. Report 2004-2

Kirchmann, H. and S. Pettersson (1995). “Human urine – Chemical composition and fertilizer use efficiency.” Fertilizer Research 40: 149-154.

Mnkeni, P. N. S., F. R. Kutu, et al. (2008). “Evaluation of human urine as a source of nutrients for selected vegetables and maize under tunnel house conditions in Eastern Cape, South Africa.” Waste management & research 26(132).

Mufwanzala, N. and O. Dikinya (2010). “Impact of Poultry Manure and its Associated Salinity on the Growth and Yield of Spinach (Spinacea oleracea) and Carrot (Daucus carota).” International journal of agriculture and biology 12(4): 489-494.

Pradhan, S. K., J. K. Holopainen, et al. (2010). “Human Urine and Wood Ash as Plant Nutrients for Red Beet (Beta vulgaris) Cultivation: Impacts on Yield Quality.” Journal of agriculture and food chemistry 58: 2034-2039.

Putnam, D. F. (1971). Composition and concentrative properties of human urine. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Contractor Report. Huntington Beach, California, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company – Western Division. NASA CR-1802.

Tidaker, P., B. Mattsson, et al. (2005). “Environmental impact of wheat production using human urine and mineral fertilisers – a scenario study.” Journal of Cleaner Production 15(2007): 52-62.

Vinneras, B. (2002). Possibilites for sustainable nutrient recycling by faecal separation combined with urine diversion. Department of Agricultural Engineering. Uppsala, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Doctoral: 88.


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