Urine-powered synergy of nutrient recovery and urine purification in a microbial electrochemical system

Yifan Gao, Dongya Sun, Han Wang, Lu Lu, He Ma, Lisheng Wang, Zhiyong Jason Ren, Peng Liang, Xiaoyuan Zhang, Xi Chen, Xia Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This study demonstrates that the chemical energy contained in human urine can synergize the in situ nutrient recovery and purification of urine itself. This process was achieved using a urine-powered microbial electrochemical system named U-Power, which can provide a maximum power density of 21.3 W m-3via the degradation of fresh human urine. Urea hydrolysis was induced by anodic microorganisms and further accelerated by the electrical potential inside U-Power to provide ammonium and balance the pH in the anode. Driven by the electrical potential generated by U-Power, the NH4 + and PO4 3- contained in urine migrated into the high nutrient concentration recovery solution. On average, 93.8% of organics, 73.1% of nitrogen and 86.2% of phosphorus were removed, along with recovery concentrations of 1234 mg L-1 nitrogen and 101 mg L-1 phosphorus. Both the above purification and recovery processes require no energy input but output a satisfactory power density among all present urine treatment studies, together with an average current efficiency of 178% and a coulombic efficiency of 26%. By achieving the triple benefits of energy-positive recovery of nutrients from urine, avoiding the complicated and energy-intensive process of nutrient removal in downstream wastewater treatment facilities, and avoiding the energy and hygiene issues combined with the storage and reuse of urine, U-Power represents a promising tool to pave the way for a sustainable water-energy-nutrient nexus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1427-1438
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science: Water Research and Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology

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