Life Cycle Assessment of Urine Diversion and Conversion to Fertilizer Products at the City Scale
Urine diversion has been proposed as an approach for producing renewable fertilizers and reducing nutrient loads to wastewater treatment plants. Life cycle assessment was used to compare environmental impacts of the operations phase of urine diversion and fertilizer processing systems [via (1) a urine concentration alternative and (2) a struvite precipitation and ion exchange alternative] at a city scale to conventional systems. Scenarios in Vermont, Michigan, and Virginia were modeled, along with additional sensitivity analyses to understand the importance of key parameters, such as the electricity grid and wastewater treatment method. Both urine diversion technologies had better environmental performance than the conventional system and led to reductions of 29–47% in greenhouse gas emissions, 26–41% in energy consumption, approximately half the freshwater use, and 25–64% in eutrophication potential, while acidification potential ranged between a 24% decrease to a 90% increase. In some situations, wastewater treatment chemical requirements were eliminated. The environmental performance improvement was usually dependent on offsetting the production of synthetic fertilizers. This study suggests that urine diversion could be applied broadly as a strategy for both improving wastewater management and decarbonization.