No Shit, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Issues Grants to Reinvent the Toilet.

Posted on July 19, 2011

Current toilet technology has two elements making it non-transferable to the third world:  It is expensive; it requires sewers and a water supply.  It is also wasteful.  We clean water to the standards for drinking and then flush waste away with it.  Clearly the current crapper has to be canned.

“We like the toilet. It was invented in 1775, saved millions of lives,”[said Frank Rijsberman, the foundation’s director of water sanitation and hygiene]. “At the same time, it didn’t reach two-thirds of the world’s population.”

So it’s high time for an update, he said.

About 2.5 billion people don’t have access to toilets as we’ve currently imagined them, and this lack of toilet access encourages the spread of diarrheal diseases, which are blamed for the deaths of 1.5 million children each year, according to the World Health Organization.

“We want to look at waste as a resource and recycle it,” Rijsberman said. “We think we can recycle the energy, the minerals and also the water. We want to reinvent the toilet that is cheap, that doesn’t cost more than a few pennies, that poor people want to use and that will recycle minerals, energy and water.”

The Gates Foundation has given out eight grants (here’s the list as a PDF) to universities that are trying to dream up a toilet 2.0.

Here are a few of the most striking ideas from those grantees:

• Andrew Cotton, from Loughborough University in the UK, is making a toilet that will “recover water and salt from feces and urine.”

• Georgios Stefanidis, from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, is working on a toilet that will generate electricity from waste, which will be “gasified into plasma” using microwaves. That gas can be used to generate electricity, according to the proposal.

• Yu-Ling Chen, from the University of Toronto, is trying to make a toilet that will “sanitize feces within 24 hours” so human waste doesn’t transmit disease through a community. Chen plans to use a process of dehydration, filtration and smoldering to render the waste harmless.

• Michael Hoffmann, from the California Institute of Technology, plans to develop a solar-powered toilet. Solar cells generate enough power to process waste and turn it into fuel for electricity.

The Gates Foundation warns that none of these efforts constitutes a “silver bullet” that would solve the world’s sanitation problems and says new toilet designs must be pursued in tandem with better wastewater treatment and sanitation systems. []

Currently, the Japanese are head and shoulders above us in perfecting the known technology.  The flush more forcefully using less water; they play music; they can be combined with a bidet; and they can have warm seats.  They are a form of entertainment as westerners disappear into a Japanese rest room and push all the buttons and note all the functionality.  Ultimately, the best use of the toilet as we know it now is to save having a cat pan.  Observe:

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