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The future of the toilet is nigh

August 22, 2012

Last week, Seattle played host to the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which put on display the results of a big-money challenge to develop low-cost, high-quality toilets, according to the MinnPost.

All entrants to the fair had to be able to handle "both liquid and solid waste without connections to a water system, an electric grid or a sewer line, as well as operate below five cents a day."

The objective, as put forth by the Foundation, is not to replace the massively wasteful flush toilets of the industrialized world, but to extend the benefits of modern sanitation throughout a developing world whose facilities run the sorry gamut from an outhouse downhill to a ditch.

Over the past two years, the Gates Foundation has granted nearly $150 million to improve global sanitation, and there is more where that came from.

Through the challenge, $3 million to teams of eight universities, scattered throughout the world.

The three top winners, as described by Bloombergs Lisa Beyer, include:

•    The California Institute of Technology won first prize for a device that includes a solar-powered electrochemical reactor that disinfects waste and generates hydrogen to be used as fuel.
•    The model from the Loughborough University in the U.K. generates clean water from urine and feces and uses a hydrothermal carbonization reactor to turn solid waste into biological charcoal that can be used as fertilizer.
•    The University of Toronto entry dries and smolders waste to sanitize it and uses a sand filter and ultra-violet light to recover clean water.

Going forward, the foundation will pursue field testing of these models to determine their real-world viability.