Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Explore Energy is a cross-campus effort of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Main content start

From Urine to Fertilizer

Kristy Chan, Class of 2025, Chemical Engineering

This summer, I've had the opportunity to work in Professor Tarpeh's lab under the guidance of graduate mentor, Dean Miller. Continuing from Spring Quarter, our project focused on using capacitive deionization (CDI), an electrochemical technique, to treat urine such that it can be reused as fertilizer. Urine contains a lot of ammonia/ammonium and potassium, which are both macronutrients that plants use to grow. On the other hand, sodium which is also commonly found in urine inhibits plant growth. As such, our goal is to selectively remove sodium ions from urine.

This was my first experience working as a researcher in a lab and I was very nervous. For one, I knew little to nothing about research methodology, let alone electrochemistry. All the terminology in literature, the process that we're interested in, and more, just glossed over my head. However, I was able to eventually make progress, thanks to my mentor, Dean.

Now, I'm quite happy to share that I have a much better understanding of the research methodology we were using and ways to interpret the results. Currently, I'm working on finding a way to operate the cell such that the electrodes are long-lasting and stable over multiple cycles. The 3 main parameters I'll be experimenting with include the electrolyte composition, mass transport, and electrochemical parameters. I am quite excited to find out the results of my experimentation.

The experience has given me lots of insight into the rigorous research process. For example, it was extremely interesting to see how my mentor analyzes the graphs from the experiments and interpret them to understand the processes that were happening in the cell itself. It was also fascinating to see my professor and mentor discern the factors that may have impacted the results and conduct more experiments to understand the process.

I look forward to continuing this project through the academic year.