Technologies for the treatment of source-separated urine in the eThekwini Municipality
In recent years, a large number of urine-diverting dehydration toilets (UDDTs) have been installed in eThekwini to ensure access to adequate sanitation. The initial purpose of these toilets was to facilitate faeces drying, while the urine was diverted into a soak pit. This practice can lead to environmental pollution, since urine contains high amounts of nutrients. Instead of polluting the environment, these nutrients should be recovered and used as fertiliser. In 2010 the international and transdisciplinary research project VUNA was initiated in order to explore technologies and management methods for better urine management in eThekwini. Three treatment technologies have been chosen for the VUNA project. The first is struvite precipitation, a technology which has already been tested in multiple projects on urine treatment. Struvite precipitation is a simple and fast process for phosphorus recovery. Other nutrients, such as nitrogen and potassium, remain in the effluent and pathogens are not completely inactivated. Therefore, struvite precipitation has to be combined with other treatment processes to prevent environmental pollution and hygiene risks. The second process is a combination of nitrification and distillation. This process combination is more complex than struvite precipitation, but it recovers all nutrients in one concentrated solution, ensures safe sanitisation and produces only distilled water and a small amount of sludge as by-products. The third process is electrolysis. This process could be used for very small on-site reactors, because conversion rates are high and the operation is simple, as long as appropriate electrodes and voltages are used. However, nitrogen is removed and not recovered and chlorinated by-products are formed, which can be hazardous for human health. While urine electrolysis requires further research in the laboratory, struvite precipitation and nitrification/distillation have already been operated at pilot scale.