Rich Earth Institute expands urine-to-fertilizer research program

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BRATTLEBORO — The Rich Earth team has just been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $225,000 to develop a self-contained system for turning human urine into a concentrated, sanitized, and purified fertilizer. Paired with commercially available urine-diverting toilet fixtures, this system will produce a valuable and sustainable product from urine, which is otherwise treated as waste.

The system, designed and built by founder and research director, Abraham Noe-Hays, has been piloted in an engineering building at the University of Michigan and controlled remotely from Vermont.

The SBIR funding allows Rich Earth's team to hire additional specialists and build the next version of the system here in Brattleboro at the research center. With further refinement, this system could be a more affordable and sustainable alternative to the advanced septic systems that are required in many sensitive watersheds.

Rich Earth underwent a rigorous, merit-based review process to receive this successful completion of this project will result in eligibility for a further Phase II grant (up to $750,000) to continue development.

award. "NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering," said Andrea Belz, division director of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF, in a statement. "With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs."

Successful completion of this project will result in eligibility for a further Phase II grant (up to $750,000) to continue development.

In addition to this great news, Rich Earth is now the proud owner of its Research Center at 355 Old Ferry Road. The company has rented space in this building since 2016, transforming it from a warehouse into a research and development facility where it tests urine-diverting toilets and processing equipment, analyze urine-derived fertilizer, and showcase the effect of the fertilizer in its demonstration garden. Rich Earth can now expand into the whole building, accommodate more staff, and greatly increase fertilizer storage capacity with new access to 24,000 gallons of underground tanks.

The staff and board wish to thank Bob Spencer and the Windham Solid Waste Management Board of Directors for their support during this acquisition as well as Bob Fisher for his legal help. Flanked by the community's largest solar array, curbside compost operation, and recycling center, our regional nutrient recovery facility will play an important role in the network of people working to make our community sustainable and resilient.

When it is safe to congregate again, Rich Earth looks forward to inviting the community to tour the space and see its operations in person. In the meantime, learn more about its work and how to get involved through its new webinar series, advertised on Facebook.

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