What will the toilet of the future look like? How will it work? These are questions the Bill & Linda Gates foundation sought the answers to with its “Reinventing the Toilet” initiative. Now, the Foundation has selected a winner for its “Toilet Fair,” a competition designed to encourage breakthroughs in the toilet and sanitation space.
First, a little background.
“Poop. Doo Doo. Number 2. Kaka. Crap. $#%@. There’s a ton of it, and dozens of words to describe it, but for 2.6 billion people around the globe, there’s no place to actually do it,” a promo video from the Gates Foundation says. “Imagine that. No reliable, sanitary toilet. What would you do? Well, what you have to do – use anything you can find, which means in no time, you have a big pile of problems, like diseases – deadly diseases that are filling half the hospital beds in developing countries.”
“The flush toilet, as you and I know it, requires a massive amount of sewer infrastructure and immense amounts of water – two things increasingly hard to come by,” the video says. “Now is the time to eliminate that health hazard, recycle waste, and turn crap into valuable resources, like clean burning fuel, fertilizer, and believe it or not, fresh water. Today, our toilets can’t do that, but the toilet of tomorrow can…Let’s get our $#%@ together, and do it.”
Bill Gates discussed the winners on his official site, TheGatesNotes:
This week in Seattle, the foundation is holding a Reinvent the Toilet Fair. Today I awarded prizes to three universities who responded to our challenge a year ago to come up 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.
Here’s the winner from the California Institute of Technology:
It’s described as, “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.”
Here’s what the Delft University of Technology came up with:
This one is described as, “A toilet system that applies microwave technology to transform human waste into electricity. The waste will be gasified using a microwave-induced plasma. This process will yield synthesis gas (syngas), a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The syngas will then be fed to a solid oxide fuel-cell to generate electricity.”
Here’s one from Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology and EOOS
This one is described as, “A functional model of a urine-diverting toilet that recovers water for flushing. The urine and feces will be safely transported to a decentralized processing center. The water used for cleaning will be recycled by a gravity-driven biological membrane.”
And here’s what Loughborough University came up with:
It’s a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water.
Bill Gates has been tweeting about the initiative and its winners throughout the week:
Thanks @inafried. An incredibly important project & we’re proud as ..heck .. to be involved. Real progress – more later today
The modern toilet was invented in 1775 and we promptly stopped innovating…until today.
What’s comes next for toilets? Check out the winner of our “Reinvent The Toilet Challenge” http://t.co/5OPzcYAa
The Telegraph is sharing a short video from the event:
“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 on his site. “It is also something that can help wealthier countries conserve fresh water for other important purposes besides flushing.”
“We don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m optimistic that we can and will solve this problem,” he added. “I’m hopeful that this unusual summer fair will be a positive step toward that important goal.”
It certainly looks like some pretty creative minds are on the case.