Reinventing the toilet

9:50 AM, 17th August 2012
Reinventing the toilet
A solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity.

WASHINGTON DC, US: The summer fairs foundation launched an initiative to tackle the problem of sanitation in the developing world. Reinvent the toilet challenge - a competition designed to encourage breakthroughs in clean, affordable sanitation without access to flush toilets. The fair brought together people from a wide range of disciplines - inventors, designers, investors, advocates, academics, and government officials.

Three universities were awarded prizes for coming with solutions for capturing and processing human waste and transforming it into useful resources. The winners included - first place to California Institute of Technology in the United States for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity, second place to Loughborough University in the United Kingdom for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water, and third place to University of Toronto in Canada for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. A special recognition was awarded to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user-interface.

The flush toilets we use in the wealthy world are irrelevant, impractical and impossible for 40 per cent of the global population, because they often don’t have access to water, and sewers, electricity, and sewage treatment systems. Worldwide, there are 2.5 billion people without access to safe sanitation - including 1 billion people who still defecate out in the open and more than 1 billion others who must use pit.

Food and water tainted with fecal matter causes diarrheal diseases that kill 1.5 million children every year. Chronic diarrhea can impact the development of children’s minds, bodies, and immune systems. The consequences are especially stark for women and girls who are often forced to miss work or school when they are menstruating or risk assault when they have to defecate in the open or use public facilities at night.

The flush toilet is actually a pretty outdated sanitation solution. Over the decades, it led to a sanitary revolution that helped keep deadly diseases like cholera at bay, saving hundreds of millions of lives. But the fact that four of every 10 people still don’t have access to flush toilets proves that, even today, it is a solution too expensive for much of the world. And in an era where water is becoming increasingly precious, flush toilets that require 10 times more water than our daily drinking water requirement are no longer a smart or sustainable solution.

Inventing new toilets is one of the most important things we can do to reduce child deaths and disease and improve people’s lives. It is also something that can help wealthier countries conserve fresh water for other important purposes besides flushing.

A solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity was invented by California Institute of Technology, US. It contained 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.

© The Gates Notes News




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