WHAT WE'VE LEARNED – START-UP ANALYSIS

‘Urine is the missing link to complete the nutrient cycle’: Why Toopi Organics is turning pee into fertiliser

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

The company wants to raise global awareness about the need to save drinking water from flushing and collect urine at source to produce agricultural microbials. Image: Toopi Organics
The company wants to raise global awareness about the need to save drinking water from flushing and collect urine at source to produce agricultural microbials. Image: Toopi Organics

Related tags fertiliser

AgTechNavigator caught up with the French start-up to hear how and why urine can be leveraged as a local and renewable natural resource for agriculture.

European agriculture remains heavily dependent on fertiliser imports and is facing unprecedented droughts. At the same time, each year 200 billion litres of urine is emptied with more than 6,000 billion litres of drinking water in European toilets.

That’s the claim of France’s Toopi Organics, which last year launched its first product based on the fermentation of human urine in France and Belgium – a biological biostimulant with a low carbon footprint for the partial replacement of phosphate fertilisers (up to 50%).

In September 2023 Toopi announced a series A of €16 million aimed at financing the construction of two industrial sites in France and Belgium. In November 2023 it won an €8.4 million grant from the EIC Accelerator, the Europe's flagship programme for deep tech startups. The funding includes a grant of €2.4 million, as well as €6 million in capital which will be invested in 2025. Toopi Organics' first initiative will be to set up 120 agronomic trials in six member states: Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

‘An excellent culture medium’

“We believe that urine is the missing link to complete the nutrient cycle between consumers and farmers,” said the company’s managing director Alexandra Carpentier. “Urine does not contain enough nutrients to nourish plants, but it is an excellent culture medium for cultivating microorganisms of agronomic interest. These microorganisms can solubilise soil phosphorus, capture atmospheric nitrogen or protect crops from water stress. The valorisation of urine is therefore beneficial in several aspects: water preservation, fertiliser consumption, soil quality, carbon footprint and agricultural productivity.”

Last year, Toopi Organics collected the urine of almost two million people in the EU. The company has installed waterless urinals at gas stations and tourist sites. It has also established partnerships with bio-waste collection company Les Alchimistes in Toulouse for the collection of uritrotoirs, as well as with mobile toilet rental companies to collect urine during music festivals and agricultural events in France, in Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands.

The company also launched its first product, Lactopi Start, in France and Belgium. This urine-based biostimulant, intended to promote plant growth and optimise phosphorus assimilation, is authorised for organic farming in five EU Member States. “Our first large-scale industrial site will be operational in France in 2025, and a second will follow in Belgium,” said co-founder and president Michael Roes.

“With the support of the EIC, we can think bigger. We will explore the needs of Northern and Southern European countries, test our product on local crops, start exporting our products and plan to build two more factories in the EU. Everything will double: the team, the number of farmers who use our products, the volumes of urine to be collected and our impact in terms of water conservation and CO2 emissions linked to fertilisers.”

Toopi Organics was founded in 2019. Based in Loupiac-de-la-Réole near Bordeaux in south-west France, it now has a team of 34 people in France and Belgium. The grand plan is to distribute more than five million litres of biostimulants to across Europe in 2029.

The company has so far conducted over 40 trials, added communications director Pierre-Emmanuel Gaultier. “We have exciting results (latest client feedback here​). The 120 trials will assess on which culture our products are best performing in combination with soil analyses, either as an add-ons to optimise fertilizer efficiency, or as a partial substitutes: 20 to 50% replacement,” he explained.

The process involves three steps:

#1 Fresh urine stabilisation on site – to avoid the production of ammonia and avoid odours

#2 Urine filtration at the facility – to remove contaminants, and enable long-term urine storage

#3 Urine fermentation with bacteria of agronomic interest (solubilisation of soil P, fixation of atmospheric N, stimulation of root system for improve drought resistance)

The company has three new products in the pipeline. “Each are based on specific bacteria strains with relevant mode of actions to increase the overall nutrient use efficiency and limit abiotic stress,” said Gaultier. “For instance, one will be dedicated to biological nitrogen fixation to help farmers saving up to 20% of their nitrogen-based fertilisers. We are targeting field crops mainly row crops, corn, soybean, potatoes, but also wheat and barley.”

Regarding cost, the products are priced to compete with mineral fertilisers, so pricing is not an issue, he told us. “When we talk about doubling the number of customers, we are talking about our capacity. With the EIC participation in our Series B in 2025, we will be able to make two additional industrial sites and will therefore be able to serve more farmers.”

Greener but still efficient farming practices needed

The products mix will be able to address many farmers' needs regarding fertilisation and abiotic stress. However, crops and technical practices may be different across countries. “Pedoclimatic conditions are also different from south to north and we know that living microbials are sensitive to the environment,” explained Gaultier. “That is why we need to achieve many field trials to assess the overall efficacy but also to refine the instructions to farmers to reach better efficacy cost ratio.

"This should also include the country specific needs regarding material or crop rotation for instance. The paradigm is shifting: we can't scale regenerative agriculture and agroecology as easily as spraying plant protection products or fertilisers twice a year. Technical advisors or retailers should take this opportunity to justify their role of leading greener but still efficient farming practices.”

To Gaultier’s knowledge, nobody is doing urine-based biostimulants. “We are the first to get this type of product approved. However, our product is competing with a wide range of starter fertilisers and biostimulants.”

He elaborated on the boost that last year’s funding gives the company. “Our series A fundraising closed last June was dedicated to our industrial and commercial development in France and limited to Belgium as a first foothold in Europe. This new funding allows us to be more ambitious to extend our international development while ensuring a stronger first-mover advantage. Alongside the grant offer, the EIC support is the most valuable acknowledgment in Europe to showcase the benefits of our solution to customers and stakeholders. It will help us to globally raise awareness about the necessity to save drinking water from flushing and collect urine at source to produce agricultural microbials.”

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