Advancing Source Separation for Equitable Transitions (ASSETs)

NSF Convergence Accelerator, Track K – Equitable Water Systems

Water exists in many forms in our communities as drinking water, sewage, stormwater, groundwater, lakes, and rivers. This water is managed to reduce pollution or flooding and to provide safe water for human consumption. While the water systems that support communities have served us well over time, they have historically been designed around a linear “use-then-dispose” approach. Water that is used to convey wastes generated by human activities in buildings (e.g., from toilets, laundry, showers, etc.) often contains materials that, if captured, have value but if not captured, can cause pollution. Our goal is to change the way water contaminants are handled so that they are treated as ASSETS and never become waste.


This project is focused on moving away from the traditional linear approach to “wastewater” management and to, instead, create a circular approach where valuable materials are captured, processed, and reused for beneficial purposes. This circular approach is called “source separation”. This project focuses on one kind of source separation that captures nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) from used water to create fertilizers. For this project, the type of source separation used as a demonstration of what is possible is based on urine separation, where most of the NPK nutrients are found. As part of a new program at the National Science Foundation focused on translation and commercialization of innovative technologies, we are focused on the best way to accelerate this waste reduction/resource recovery approach into practice. 

Study Goal

Through scaled implementation of urine diversion systems, the team will: (1) Identify a context where urine diversion can be scaled to meet local goals for community waste reduction, and (2) develop a business case, considering user perspectives, expand policy, and incorporate equitable workforce development initiatives.

Funded Project

  • Project Team
    • Nancy Love, PhD (PI), University of Michigan
    • Miriam Hacker, PhD (Co-PI), The Water Research Foundation
    • Jamina Shupack (Co-PI), Rich Earth Institute
    • Marisa Manheim, PhD (Co-PI), The University at Buffalo
    • Mathew Lippencott, University of Michigan

For questions about the project you may contact Miriam Hacker