March 31, 2023

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In Gironde, a young company implants the future with human urine

In a gray shed, between fields and forests in southern Gironde, young Toopi Organics is ready to recover 250,000 liters of human urine each year, via bacteria, an equal volume of “bio-solution” in order to reduce mineral fertilizers in agriculture.

This “processing unit” opened Friday in L’Eupac de la Riole, 60 kilometers southeast of Bordeaux, and houses dozens of 1,000-liter plastic tanks and large piped tanks, where bacteria ferment in human urine collected in a futuroscope, in rest areas on Wenchy Highway, or surrounding high schools or music festivals.

“Urine is supportive, it’s the bacteria that will work in the field,” explains in the barn a logistics production manager from Toby (from English “to pee,” to pee, and from French Toby, “to circulate the economy side,” we explain).

“In five years, we hope to have 20 plants like this installed in France, on the front of the big cities, where there is plenty of urine, and the countryside where we need fertilizer,” declared Michael Rowe, the company’s young founder. The President (33 years old). He counts on a turnover in France of 80 million euros by this time.

According to him, “recycling human excrement is one of the levers of sustainable agriculture,” because it is part of a virtuous cycle.

When plants grow, which need nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, or animals that eat them, they excrete these nutrients, often through urine. If collected and evaluated, the cycle begins.

For a long time, urban waste was also used in the fields, before it was replaced by chemical fertilizers.

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“We are the only ones in the world market that have the technology to recycle urine, for economically viable agricultural purposes,” Mr. Royce assures AFP, making it possible to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture and soil pollution. A liter of urine yields the same amount of manure “without producing waste”.

– ‘On all fronts’ –

“The annual production of a plant like this makes it possible to reduce the share of mineral fertilizers by 20% on an area of ​​60,000 hectares,” he says, with a similar yield, lower cost and lower environmental impact.

The environmental gain in particular comes from the fact that less gas, and fossil fuels, are used to produce nitrogen fertilizers. As for phosphate and potassium, this also means less mining, a heavily polluted industry, and less runoff water because Topi ensures with his products that the plant will fix 100% of the available nutrients, which it does not do with mineral fertilizers, which are sometimes found in rivers, Which leads to the appearance of green algae, for example.

For Alain Roussett, president of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which has been helping Toopi organic since its inception in 2019: “We are winning on all fronts because manufacturing nitrogen fertilizer has a huge energy cost, plus we import it.”

And with the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, gas and fertilizer prices soared, making the issue of their food sovereignty even more pressing for countries.

In another building, officials showed the waterless urinals collecting raw materials. Including a female urinal. “The school girls asked for their daughters because they wanted to be involved in the collection process,” explains one of Toby’s 22 employees, who will turn 250 in 5 years if Michael Royce’s projects are implemented.

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The young manager ensures that “today, we are no longer able to urinate in drinking water.” He claims to be able to collect 3 million liters of urine per year. More than enough to meet production needs.

While it is soon awaiting marketing authorization, the first 250,000 liters sold from Loupiac-de-la-Réole, the first year of production, welcomes.