« How recycling urine could help save the world “: behind this shocking title, the famous scientific journal Nature explained in February 2022 why it represents a formidable resource exploited by a young French company: Toopi Organics.
Let’s talk urine. Even if it concerns all of us, the subject remains largely taboo while, however, this universal and renewable liquid contains a wealth to be exploited to solve many environmental challenges, as explained by Michael Roes, founder of Toopi Organics.
What is your solution?
Michael Roes : Toopi Organics collects, transforms and valorizes human urine into agricultural biosolutions. Urine is indeed rich in more than 500 elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients, but also various acids and growth factors which provide a real fertilizing contribution to the soil and which serve as excellent environments. universal culture to develop micro-organisms. Today tested and patented, the Toopi Organics process is a much more ecological and less expensive solution than the chemical inputs currently used in agriculture.
Why will your start-up change the world?
Michael Roes : Our innovation is part of a circular, local and reproducible model. The collection, like the transformation, the use of urine are located within a radius of 150 km. Its recycling process is energy and resource efficient and produces no waste. You should know that the management of urine is a global problem. Each year, 6,000 billion liters of drinking water are contaminated in Europe by 200 billion liters of urine, which represents 50 to 80% of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content for only 1% of the total volume of wastewater. When we know that, on the other hand, more than 18 million tonnes of mineral fertilizers are used in Europe each year in agriculture, which come from non-renewable resources and which threaten biodiversity, the environment and our health, there has an emergency.
How did the project grow?
Michael Roes : I am completely self-taught. After a medico-social baccalaureate, I turned to commerce then I created a company for the design, manufacture and sale of fertilizers such as horsetail decoction or nettle manure. But the solutions were not stable and therefore with uneven efficiency. After getting information from biologists and farmers, I was able to improve the manufacturing process using, for example, lactic fermentation, which has existed for several millennia, and market the products under the Mr Organics brand.
But it was not possible to scale up because almost more land was needed to produce the plants than that needed for the crops to be treated. I found the solution after meeting with a dry toilet rental company. Urine is difficult to recycle because it contains 95% water and therefore consumes far too much energy in distillation. On the other hand, it proves to be a formidable medium for the culture of bacteria. From there was born the Toopi adventure in 2019.
What’s next in the story?
Michael Roes : Our first industrial biostimulant production unit was created in Loupiac de la Réole (Gironde) at the start of 2022. The process for securing and transforming low-tech urine has been patented and we would like to be able to install and operate these recovery units in partnership with local actors in each French metropolis but also to develop ourselves internationally.
We have also created Lactopi Start, the world’s first urino-sourced biostimulant, which dissolves the phosphorus retained in the soil and stimulates the development of plants and roots. We are also working on a range of urino-sourced biostimulation and probiotic products to, for example, fix atmospheric nitrogen on cereals and limit the use of fossil fuels, but also biofungicides against common diseases of vines, wheat and vegetable crops. And that’s just the beginning, as the applications go far beyond agriculture and could also revolutionize industry.
If you were Prime Minister, what flagship measure would you put in place?
Michael Roes : Fertilizers represent a major subject of public health and ecology. Even if France is one of the countries that has the best support for initiatives in this direction, the State should therefore take more ownership of the subject in the same way as motorways for example. If I were Prime Minister, I would therefore surround myself with the best skills on the subject, and there are many of them in France, whether at Ademe or Inrae to name a few, and I would set up a one-stop shop so that each initiative, after detailed analysis, can be supported more systemically by the State.
What will the world look like in 2050?
Michael Roes : We are clearly not going fast enough to meet the great challenges of our time, but I am convinced that we can get there, provided that, collectively, we each make the effort at our level.
What Futura hot topic excites you?
Michael Roes : In addition to the subjects we have just discussed, I am passionate about space, about which Futura publishes fascinating articles. We have before us an almost infinite space which could open up many prospects for humanity provided that we can, through sobriety in particular, protect life on Earth and, at the same time, develop the technologies which would allow us to live elsewhere afterwards.