Eco-Living Magazine

Gates Foundation Aims to “Reinvent the Toilet”

Posted on the 16 August 2012 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Gates Foundation Aims to “Reinvent the Toilet”Waste, the kind that humans flush down the toilet, consumes vast amounts of water and can cause the spread of disease when disposed of in unsanitary ways. Human waste is an issue in the developed and developing world. Requiring large infrastructure – namely sewers and treatment plants – dealing with waste consumes vast resources (think toilet paper in addition to water) for what ought to be a fairly straightforward process. In countries with a lack of sanitation infrastructure, diseases carried through the digestive system are of the utmost concern.

Because the issue of human waste is a universal problem, with wide ranging implications for both public and ecological health, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has targeted it. Begun last year, the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” dispensed $3 million in grants to eight universities worldwide. The challenge was “to reinvent the toilet as a stand-alone unit without piped-in water, a sewer connection, or outside electricity—all for less than 5 cents a day.“ The following institutions received grants for the project:

  • California Institute of Technology
  • WEDC at Loughborough University
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Eidgenössische Anstalt für Wasserversorgung, Abwasserreinigung und Gewässerschutz (EAWAG)
  • National University of Singapore
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • University of Toronto
  • Stanford University for a Hertz Fellows Multi-University Research Collaboration

Yesterday, The Gates Foundation named its top choice in the competition, CalTech’s solar powered unit that generates hydrogen and electricity. The winner was,

A self-contained, solar-powered toilet and wastewater treatment system. A solar panel will produce enough power for an electrochemical reactor that is designed to break down water and human waste into hydrogen gas. The gas can then be stored for use in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a backup energy source for nighttime operation or use under low-sunlight conditions.

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