Bill Gates commits $370M to invent toilet of future
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SEATTLE, Washington—These aren’t your typical toilets. One uses microwave energy to transform human waste into electricity. Another captures urine and uses it for flushing. And still another turns excrement into charcoal.
They are part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have access to modern sanitation systems for handling the basic and vital need in disposing of bodily waste.
Scientists from around the world have taken up the challenge, and the foundation announced some projects on Tuesday that would be getting more money to take their ideas from the lab to the cities. There, local entrepreneurs are expected to use the new technology to turn pollution into cash.
“Toilets are extremely important for public health and, when you think of it, even human dignity,” Gates, the Microsoft cofounder turned global philanthropist, said in a statement launching the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair” in Seattle.
“The flush toilets we use in the wealthy world are irrelevant, impractical and impossible for 40 percent of the global population, because they often don’t have access to water, and sewers, electricity, and sewage treatment systems,” he added.
The toilet fair was described as a swirl of about 200 inventors, designers, investors, partners and others passionate about creating safe, effective, and inexpensive waste management systems.
“We couldn’t be happier with the response that we’ve gotten,” Bill Gates said.
To pass the foundation’s threshold for the world’s next toilet, it must operate without running water, electricity or a septic system, not discharge pollutants, preferably capture energy or other resources, and operate at a cost of 5 cents a day.
The foundation expects to field test its first prototypes within the next three years.
Most of the prototypes on display this week in the open courtyard of the foundation’s Seattle headquarters turn solid waste into energy.
This is both a practical and pragmatic solution to the solid waste puzzle, said Carl Hensman, program officer for the foundation’s water, sanitation and hygiene team.
At present, flush toilets waste tons of potable drinking water each year, fail to recapture reusable resources like the potential energy in solid waste and are simply impractical in so many places.
Many of the prototypes on display at the toilet fair, however, recycle waste into other usable substances such as animal feed, water for irrigation, or even just energy and water to run their own systems.
Some of the prototypes were designed in US, British and Canadian universities which were awarded prizes in a competition that the foundation launched a year ago challenging inventors to come up with a better toilet.
First place went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen gas and electricity.
Clement Cid, a Caltech grad student from Trouillas, France, said it had been intellectually rewarding to work with scientists from a variety of specialties. “You can come up with great ideas,” he said, adding that the toilet fair offered more opportunities for idea sharing.
Loughborough University came in second in last year’s competition for a toilet that transforms waste into biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water.
Third place went to the University of Toronto for a toilet that sanitizes human waste and recovers minerals and water.
Not so high-tech
Other projects on display were not so high-tech, including one from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that sends black soldier fly larvae inside latrines and even home toilets to process waste, resulting in high quality, environmentally friendly animal feed at a cost of a penny a day.
The fly larvae project is already being field tested in Cape Town, South Africa, and the inventors are working on a kit to sell to entrepreneurs. They have had inquiries from Haiti, Sudan, Kenya and Ghana about adopting the approach.
“At the end of the day it will look very low-tech, but there’s a lot of science behind it,” said Walter Gibson, a medical biochemist who is part of the development team.
Including grants it announced on Tuesday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $370 million to reinventing the toilet.
Hensman said the foundation decided to hold a toilet fair this week to show how far the scientists had gotten in that time, and to give them an opportunity to learn from each other and potentially collaborate.
Among those attending the toilet fair were government ministers from African nations, utility workers and potential financial partners like Unicef and Oxfam.
The foundation said reinventing the toilet had the potential to improve lives as well as the environment. “Four in 10 people worldwide don’t have a safe way to poop,” it said in a message at its gatesfoundation.org website.
“Beyond a question of human dignity, this lack of access also endangers people’s lives, creates an economic and a health burden for poor communities, and hurts the environment,” Gates added.
Food or water tainted with fecal matter causes intestinal diseases that kill 1.5 million children annually—a figure higher than deaths from AIDS and malaria combined.
“Inventing new toilets is one of the most important things we can do to reduce child deaths and disease and improve people’s lives,” Gates said.
Conserve fresh water
He predicted the result of this project would reach beyond the developing world.
“It is also something that can help wealthier countries conserve fresh water for other important purposes besides flushing, Gates said.
“If we do it right, there’s every possibility that some of these designs would also be solutions for rich and middle-income countries.” Reports from AP and AFP
Recent Stories:NP backs Drilon, joins new Senate majority 3 mins elapsed No poll fraud, says Brillantes 15 mins elapsed Lady Bulldogs’ poor reception key in V-League finals game one downfall, says coach 36 mins elapsed 2 men with gunshot wounds found dead in Batangas 54 mins elapsed Tokyo plunges more than 7% as Asian markets fall 1 hour elapsed ‘You people will never be safe’—London attacker 1 hour elapsed Graphic gay sex stirs controversy at Cannes 2 hours elapsed CHEd asks maritime schools to phase out substandard courses 3 hours elapsed