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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Selective degradation of endogenous organic metabolites in acidified fresh human urine using sulphate radical-based advanced oxidation

Mehaidli, Ali Peter; Mandal, Rupasri; Simha, Prithvi


The human urine metabolome is complex, containing a wide range of organic metabolites that affect treatment of urine collected in resource-oriented sanitation systems. In this study, an advanced oxidation process involving heat-activated peroxydisulphate was used to selectively oxidise organic metabolites in urine over urea and chloride. Initial experiments evaluated optimal conditions (peroxydisulphate dose, temperature, time, pH) for activation of peroxydisulphate in unconcentrated, non-hydrolysed synthetic urine and real urine acidified to pH 3.0. Subsequent experiments determined the fate of 268 endogenous organic metabolites (OMs) and removal of COD from unconcentrated and concentrated real urine (80-90% mass reduced by evaporation). The results revealed >90% activation of 60 mM peroxydisulphate in real unconcentrated urine heated to 90 degrees C for 1 h, resulting in 43% Sigma OMs degradation, 22% COD removal and 56% total organic carbon removal, while >94% of total nitrogen and >97% of urea in real unconcentrated urine were recovered. The mechanism of urea degradation was identified to be chemical hydrolysis to ammonia, with the rate constant for this reaction determined to be 1.9 x 10(-6) s(-1) at pH 3.0 and 90 degrees C. Treating concentrated real urine resulted in similar removal of COD, Sigma OMs degradation and total nitrogen loss as observed for unconcentrated urine, but with significantly higher chloride oxidation and chemical hydrolysis of urea. Targeted metabolomic analysis revealed that peroxydisulphate treatment degraded 157 organic metabolites in urine, of which 67 metabolites were degraded by >80%. The rate constant for the reaction of sulphate radicals with oxidisable endogenous organic metabolites in urine was estimated to exceed 10(8) M-1 s(-1). These metabolites were preferentially oxidised over chloride and urea in acidified, non-hydrolysed urine treated with peroxydisulphate. Overall, the findings support the development of emerging urine recycling technologies, including alkaline/acid dehydration and reverse osmosis, where the presence of endogenous organic urine metabolites significantly influences treatment parameters such as energy demand and product purity.


Decentralised sanitation; Nutrient recycling; Resource recovery; Persulfate; Urea; Urine metabolomics

Published in

Water Research
2024, Volume: 257, article number: 121751