Bill Gates: In Search of a Smarter and Resourceful Toilet 2.0

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is embarking on a new sanitation-focussed strategy. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President of the Foundations’s Global Development Program, announced in her keynote address at the 2011 AfricaSan3 Conference in Kigali, on July 19th-

“The sanitation revolution has done more to save lives and improve health than any public health intervention in the past 200 years. But the flush toilet has only reached one-third of the world’s population. Clearly, we need to encourage new ideas and new approaches to accelerate safe and affordable access to sanitation for everyone.”

This is why the foundation has announced $41.5 million in new program investments and a new program strategy.

“Some of these funds will be used to spur innovation in sanitation science and technology, which includes the capture and storage of human waste, as well as its processing into reusable energy, fertilizer, and fresh water.”

UNICEF estimates that 1.1 billion people worldwide don’t have access to any kind of toilet or ways of eliminating waste. That, in turn, fouls drinking water and can cause diarrhea, which spreads quickly.

The goal is to find “innovative solutions” for sanitation in poor urban areas. Gates says it’s time to move on from the era of the classic toilet. He points out that-

..”despite all the recent achievements, 40% of the world’s population, or some 2.5 billion people, still lives without proper means of flushing away excrement. But just giving them Western-style toilets isn’t possible because of the world’s limited water resources.”

Some of these funds will be used to spur innovation in sanitation science and technology, which includes the capture and storage of human waste, as well as its processing into reusable energy, fertilizer, and fresh water.

The program’s Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative is focused on engaging creative minds to work on scientific and technological breakthroughs for the world’s most pressing health and development problems. GCE is a grant program that fosters innovative, early-stage research to expand the pipeline of ideas that can lead to those much-needed global health and development solutions. Some of the innovative solutions that have received grants include-

  • Technology to Convert Excreta to Valuable Product- Developing a single portable unit that combines anaerobic micro-digesters and micro-combined heat/power thermoelectric generation units—that can consume human excreta to generate electricity, heat, methane, fertilizer, and water. Each device will be designed to serve a single extended family.
  • Algae for the Effective and Economical Treatment of Waste- Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae- mass cultivated using wastewater as the feedstock) will treat waste and produce two forms of renewable energy: nutrient- rich fertilizer to enhance agriculture and bio-methane to power the facility and local communities.

In addition, the foundation challenged 22 universities to submit proposals for- how to invent a waterless, hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world and doesn’t have to be connected to a sewer. Eight universities were awarded grants to “reinvent the toilet.”

Some of the innovative grants include:

  • A toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water.
  • Turning the toilet into an electricity generator for local use.
  • A toilet that uses mechanical dehydration and smoldering of feces to recover resources and energy.

Bill Gates has turned his attention to a very unglamorous and taboo, but critical aspect of human life- the toilet and is looking to give it a much-needed technological uplift. Why not? When everything around us is becoming smarter and multi-functional, why not the toilet?

Read more about waterless toilet technologies available today on our sister-site Sustainablog!

About the Author

Hi there! I am Priti and I specialize in strategy and communications for impact organizations that aim to create social, environmental and economic wealth for all stakeholders. Working from the ground up, I help these do-gooders craft effective programs for community engagement, outreach and profitability. Follow my work covering do-gooders, cleanweb, start-ups and Web 2.0 businesses on Ecopreneurist and at Crowdsourcing Week. I enjoy traveling with my boys, cooking up a gourmet meal from scratch and entertaining! Join my community for Social Entrepreneurs on G+ Follow me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Google+
  • Future generations will look back upon the common flush water toilet design with horror and confusion. It is utter madness to waste clean drinking water for processing excrement. We must view human “waste” as the valuable resource that it is, and recycle it; and potable water is far too precious to just foolishly squander it down a shit hole.

  • Most critical need particularly due to urban growth all over the world, people have no access to affordable and healthy meal when they are out on work and away from howes traveling. The rich and poor alike are at the mercy of food unscrupulous vendors serving unhyiegenic and exorbitantly priced food. This has health implications . City dwellers are mostly nuclear families whe both partners are out on work and they are hard pressed for time for home cooked meals and whole family depends on outsiDe food or make do with basic foods lacking adequate nutritional value. If only there were Community kitchen there where people can buy goods meals at affordable cost cheaper than what it costs to cook at home and feed the family ! This should be possible if suCh kitchens are set up as social enterprises with local community participation which will ensure access to nutritionally wholesome meals to all. People who can afford to pay will buy and those poor who can not buy, may be supported thru food vouchers by Govt. The kitchen may use solar energy based equipments for cooking wherever possible and seek help from nutritional experts on the composition of meals and recipe using locall produce. THIS IS REAL FOOD SECURITY universally provide , for a happy and healthy community

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