Created in early 2019, the greentech start-up Toopi Organics recently announced the marketing of a first product aimed at the agricultural sector: Lactopi Start. A biostimulant that has a unique feature in the world: it is made from urine. Michael Roes, founder and president of the start-up, tells us more about the patented fermentation technology behind this world-class innovation.
Vespasiano was not mistaken: more than waste, urine is a resource… The Roman emperor had in fact charged a tax on the collection of this precious liquid, used at the time by tanners and other washers to degrease leather and fabrics. While this use is probably no longer relevant in textile factories, human urine seems to be coming back into the spotlight in an entirely different sector: agriculture. A Gironde start-up founded in February 2019, Toopi Organics, has developed an unprecedented technology that allows recovering – this time in the field – the substance excreted in the order of 240 billion liters per year in Europe alone. As ? Transforming it, through fermentation, into a series of biostimulation solutions and biocontrol🇧🇷
Urine, an excellent culture medium
“The use of urine as a fertilizer is well documented in the literature. But today, faced with very concentrated mineral fertilizers, easy to use, without strong odors, there is no economic viability in using this urine. There are only constraints in this regard…”, notes Michael Roes, founder and president of Toopi Organics. To remedy this, the businessman considered the issue of urine recovery from a different angle: “Certainly, urine is not a good fertilizer. On the other hand, it is an excellent culture medium! 🇧🇷🇧🇷 The startup then had the idea of using urine as a growth medium for microorganisms of interest. The starting point of technology developed by Toopi Organics. “As neither an engineer, nor an agronomist, nor a microbiologist, I think I was lucky to be able to look at the problem from this slightly different angle and see that urine could be valued in this way. 🇧🇷 From that idea, a lot of R&D work was required before getting a master’s degree. for a first product…” remakes Michael Roes. The start-up is in fact at the origin of a proprietary technology, which it readily qualifies “unique in the world”based on a patented fermentation process.
a unique process
First stabilized with an acid, the urine is then filtered and poured into a 5,000 liter preparation tank. “We then add a source of sugar, bring the solution to a precise pH and temperature, before filtering the mixture much more finely in order to remove the pathogens and thus obtain a perfectly healthy growing soil”, describes Michael Roes. The liquid thus prepared is then introduced into a fermenter “everything more classic”as described by the founder of Toopi Organics. “We can manage temperature, pH, aeration or liquid flows”, lists Michael Roes. This creates a particularly favorable environment for the growth of the protagonists of this technology: microorganisms. “A microbial inoculum is then introduced into the fermentation tank. It’s just the bacteria we want to grow.” clarifies Michael Roes. Bacteria selected for the agronomic services they are able to provide: solubilizing soil elements to make them available to plants, fixing atmospheric nitrogen or even replacing certain pesticides. “These are Toopi’s proprietary varieties, which we’ve examined in the soil and whose properties we’ve identified; or bacteria licenses from organizations like INRAE », specifies the president of the start-up. Spread for a maximum of 48 hours, a fermentation phase thus allows microorganisms to multiply in the urine-based culture medium, which then gradually transforms into a true biosolution.
Energy efficient, the process has the added benefit of a very favorable carbon balance. “We performed an initial study of our products against phosphate fertilizers, which showed that our process was up to 169 times less CO₂ emitter”argues Michael Roes.
Thanks to the diversity of microbial inocula that it has selected, Toopi Organics intends to produce a multitude of what it calls biosolutions. “We have already obtained 16 marketing authorizations”, emphasizes Michael Roes. The company has just announced the marketing of a first product, called Lactopi Start, which uses a specific strain of bacteria: Lactobacillus paracasei. “It is a proprietary bacterium, deposited in the National Collection of Microorganism Cultures at the Institut Pasteur, the CNCM. The function of this bacterium is to make available the phosphorus that is stored in the soil. This allows, therefore, to improve the assimilation by the plants of the phosphate fertilizers that are brought to the fields.explains Michael Roes.
Sold in liquid form, Lactopi Start can be used as a seed treatment – thus replacing starter fertilizers, phosphate inputs made at the beginning of cultivation –, applied in the sowing furrow, or even applied directly by means of spraying in the field. “The amounts used are therefore very different depending on the type of use. This can vary from around 4 liters up to 25 liters per hectare”says the founder of Topi Organics.
Thirty tests have already been carried out in experimental plots and in real conditions of use in the field with this first product. Tests that, according to the company, allowed demonstrating the benefit of Lactopi Start in the assimilation of mineral elements present in the soil, in particular phosphorus. Enough to reduce farmers’ dependence on synthetic mineral fertilizers while preserving soil life. And Toopi Organics doesn’t plan to stop there.
“Urine is an extremely versatile medium. You can grow many things there, all over the world. Tomorrow we will therefore be able to produce, for example, lactic acid from urine. We have already proved that this can be done. We also know how to enrich protein with urine or even with biofungicides”reveals Michael Roes.
With the desire to focus its activities on the production of agricultural inputs, Toopi Organics does not rule out establishing partnerships with other manufacturers to further expand the range of products made from urine. 🇧🇷 “For example, in protein enrichment”topi organics president slides.
Multiple perspectives that, however, naturally lead to a question: will the company find enough urine to achieve its ambitions…?
Urine, a superabundant resource
Michael Roes’ answer is clear: “Urine is an ultra-abundant resource. In France, it is about 35 billion liters per year…”🇧🇷 The president of Toopi Organics thus estimates that only a tiny part of this resource (0.3%) would cover all agricultural needs.
The company thus allows itself to carefully select the sources of urine that it considers most relevant: highway rest areas, stadiums and other event venues, or even amusement parks. “For example, we collect urine in the Futuroscope”notes Michael Roes.
To achieve this, Toopi Organics is replacing the urinals in these public places with waterless versions – also accessible to women – which lead the urine not to the sewer, but to a collection tank. “They are usually buried or can be under the urinal. These tanks are connected to a sensor that we developed, which allows us to know in real time the volume, but also the quality of the collected urine. We also add an acid to the bottom of the tank to stabilize the urine. This is also part of our patent. When the tank is full, we collect the urine and take it to our factory.”finally explains Michael Roes.
While it has already contracted the collection of 2 million liters of urine – thus guaranteeing production for the next three years – Topi Organics has an annual collection of 3.75 million liters within 5 years, for an equivalent volume of products sold . At the same time, the company plans to expand its transformation activities to no less than seven sites in France and Belgium. In the long term, it is even the opening of around twenty locations in France – one per metropolis – that ambitions the young filming, which has already raised close to 9 million euros. Vespasiano certainly doesn’t seem to be the only one who sees urine as a precious resource.
 The biostimulant family includes all products containing inert substances or microorganisms whose purpose is to improve plant, soil or soil-plant interactions (Source).
 Biocontrol products, which include products containing microorganisms, aim to protect plants through the use of mechanisms and interactions that govern relationships between species or that stimulate plant defenses (Source).
 marketing authorization