Brattleboro Company’s Plans To Turn Human Urine Into Fertilizer Get $1 Million Boost

Aug. 16 – BRATTLEBORO – A for-profit company in the city is seeking to install and test wastewater treatment systems that convert human waste into fertilizer after the project received a $1 million federal grant.

Brightwater Tools, which spun off from Brattleboro’s research nonprofit Rich Earth Institute in 2019, developed a treatment system that separates urine discharged into toilets from waste water from other fixtures like showers, sinks and washing machines. The system then directs the urine through specialized plumbing to a compact, building-scale processor that turns it into liquid fertilizer, according to a Brightwater press release.

The Rich Earth website states that urine contains agriculturally beneficial elements, containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium comparable to fertilizers.

Kim Nace, CEO of Brightwater and co-founder of the Rich Earth Institute, said development of initial project concepts began around the time the company parted ways with the institute. The nonprofit also received an earlier grant of $240,000 from the National Science Foundation while working with the University of Michigan and the University at Buffalo during this time.

“[Rich Earth has] a urine nutrient recovery project here in the Brattleboro area and kind of a platform to learn more about how we can recycle our human waste,” Nace said. “Looking back, we realized that we were actually developing technologies that make it easier to collect, transport, process and apply urine as fertilizer, so we realized it was time to move from forward and commercialize some of these technologies.”

The treatment system could support condominiums and apartments, with Nace citing developments in Brattleboro as an example where Brightwater’s work could prove its potential.

“In Brattleboro they’re trying to think about how they can build 200 and 300 unit apartment complexes, so I’m really hoping that we can integrate one of our systems into one of these new complexes. bigger,” she said. . “We really need housing and we need these new housing units to be the best we can do in terms of technology for energy and nutrient water flows.”

Brightwater has not yet determined where it will test its wastewater-to-fertilizer systems once it can fund the trials. And although Nace thought about staying “close to home”, she said there was the possibility of going international.

“We have a potential customer in the Netherlands and a potential customer in the Seattle area, and those aren’t close to home, but they’re innovators,” she said.

The company applied for the second phase of the NSF Small Business Innovation Research Program in September 2021, according to Nace. Rich Earth received the first grant of $240,000 in the first phase of the program in 2019.

After submitting a 100-page application and then passing three reviews, Nace said Brightwater was selected for the grant over other urine collection projects, including those in California, Illinois and Arizona. . Today, the company is looking for outside investors to fund testing of the system.

“The grant fully supports the development of all four components of the technology, but that’s it, and we need a lot more funding,” Nace said. “I would like to get another million dollars, because the [NSF] will be $500,000.”

The Rich Earth Institute was founded in 2012 by Nace and Abraham Noe-Hays, both natives of Brattleboro. Nace said they see their hometown as a desirable place to base their research for their local selection committee and regional planners.

“It’s interesting to know that this is where we come from and [our work] just evolved and got really big,” Nace said.

Tim Nail can be reached at 352-1234, ext. 1436, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @timmnail.