Of all the ambitious ideas that might deliver us from the wrath of the changing climate, turning human urine into liquid gold seems like a long shot. But according to scientists in South Africa, it turns out that the ubiquitous fluid contains a key ingredient that might help us in a variety of ways — including, oddly, a way to rebuild our cities once rising tides engulf coastal communities.
On Wednesday, a team at the University of Cape Town revealed that human urine can be manipulated into solid, brick-like forms they call “bio-bricks.” Unlike regular kiln-fired bricks, bio-bricks don’t require high heat, and producing them doesn’t spew out thousands of kilograms of greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide.
Water quality engineering lecturer Dyllon Randall, Ph.D., discovered urine’s potential after he began placing makeshift urinals around the university in an attempt to make fertilizer. The urinals contain builder’s lime, which reacts with the phosphorus in urine to produce fertilizer.
But even after the fertilizer was extracted, Randall soon realized that there was still some fluid left over. This, to use his words, was his “liquid gold.”