In a gray hangar, between fields and forests in the south of the Gironde, the young company Toopi organics is ready to recover every year, via bacteria, 250,000 liters of human urine in an equal volume of “biosolution” to reduce fertilizers in agriculture.
This “processing plant”, opened Friday in Loupiac-de-la-Réole, 60 km southeast of Bordeaux, houses dozens of 1,000-liter plastic tanks and large tanks connected to pipes where bacteria ferment in collected human urine. in Futuroscope, in the rest areas of the Vinci highway, in the surroundings of secondary schools or music festivals.
“Urine is a support, it is the bacteria that will act in the field”, explains in the hangar a logistics production manager from Topi (from the English “To pee”, to pee, and from the French toupie, “for the circular side of the economy “, we explain).
“In five years, we expect to have installed 20 factories like this one in France, at the interface of big cities, where volumes of urine are available, and in the countryside, where we need fertilizers”, announces Michael Roes, its young president and founder (33 years old). He is counting on a turnover in France of 80 million euros by this time.
According to him, “the recycling of human excrement is one of the levers of sustainable agriculture”, as it is part of a virtuous circle.
When plants, which need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to grow, or the animals that ingest them, are eaten by humans, they excrete these nutrients, mainly through urine. If it is collected and valued, the cycle begins.
For a long time, urban excrement was also used in fields, before being supplanted by chemical fertilizers.
“We are the only ones on the world market to have a urine recycling technique for economically viable agricultural purposes”, and which reduces agriculture’s carbon footprint and soil pollution, assures AFP Mr. Roes. “And without producing waste”, a liter of urine giving so much natural fertilizer.
– “On all fronts” –
“The annual production of a factory like this allows a 20% reduction in the share of mineral fertilizers in an area of 60,000 hectares”, with an equivalent yield, lower cost and lower environmental impact, he says.
The ecological gain comes mainly from using less gas, a fossil fuel, to produce nitrogen fertilizers. For phosphate and potash, this also means less mining, a highly polluting industry and less disposal in runoff water, because Topi guarantees that with its products, the plant fixes 100% of the available nutrient, which mineral fertilizers do not, which sometimes they are found in rivers, favoring the appearance of green algae, for example.
For Alain Rousset, president of the PS of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, who has helped Toopi organics since its creation in 2019: “We win on all fronts because the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizers has a huge energy cost and, in addition, we import”.
And with the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, gas and fertilizer prices have soared, making the question of their food sovereignty more pressing for countries.
In another building, employees show the waterless urinals that collect the raw material. Including a female urinal. “The high school girls asked because they wanted to participate in the collection operation”, explains one of Topi’s 22 employees, who will be 250 in 5 years if Michael Roes’ projects are carried out.
The young boss guarantees that “today we can no longer pee in drinking water”. He claims to be able to collect 3 million liters of urine a year. More than enough to meet your production needs.
While waiting for a marketing authorization soon, the first 250,000 liters that will come out of the Loupiac-de-la-Réole plant, that is, the first year of production, have already been sold, he welcomes.