Health & Wellbeing

Bill backs one out at Reinventing the Toilet fair

Bill backs one out at Reinvent...
Bill Gates evaluates the Toronto Toilet at the Reinvent the Toilet fair in Seattle
Bill Gates evaluates the Toronto Toilet at the Reinvent the Toilet fair in Seattle
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Bill Gates evaluates the Toronto Toilet at the Reinvent the Toilet fair in Seattle
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Bill Gates evaluates the Toronto Toilet at the Reinvent the Toilet fair in Seattle
The winning Caltech toilet
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The winning Caltech toilet
The winning Caltech toilet breaks down water and human waste material into fertilizer and hydrogen gas
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The winning Caltech toilet breaks down water and human waste material into fertilizer and hydrogen gas
The winning Caltech design can be used with a western-style toilet, water-free urinal and squat toilet
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The winning Caltech design can be used with a western-style toilet, water-free urinal and squat toilet
The “Diversion” squatting toilet from Eawag
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The “Diversion” squatting toilet from Eawag
Bill Gates presents the first prize award to Michael Hoffmann from the California Institute of Technology
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Bill Gates presents the first prize award to Michael Hoffmann from the California Institute of Technology
The University of Toronto’s toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
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The University of Toronto’s toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
Loughborough University's toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
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Loughborough University's toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
The “Diversion” squatting toilet from eawag (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
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The “Diversion” squatting toilet from eawag (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
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In an effort to improve conditions for the more than 2.5 billion people worldwide with no access to safe sanitation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year awarded grants totaling US$3 million to eight universities to reinvent the toilet. At the two-day "Reinventing the Toilet" fair held in Seattle this week, where Bill Gates was on hand with 50 gallons (189 l) of fake feces made from soybeans and rice to put the various designs through their paces, a California Institute of Technology (Caltech) team claimed first place for their solar-powered toilet.

The reinvent the toilet challenge asked teams to design a toilet that was completely self-contained and didn't require a sewer connection, piped-in water, or outside electricity. It also had to cost less than 5 cents a day per person to operate and be easy to install and maintain.

Caltech environmental scientist and engineer Michael Hoffmann ticked all these boxes with his solar-powered toilet design, which uses a solar panel to generate electricity to power an electrochemical reactor that breaks down water and human waste material into fertilizer and hydrogen gas.

The winning Caltech toilet breaks down water and human waste material into fertilizer and hydrogen gas
The winning Caltech toilet breaks down water and human waste material into fertilizer and hydrogen gas

This hydrogen gas can then be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as a backup power source so people can continue to relieve themselves at night and on low-sunlight days. The treated water can then be used to flush the toilet of for irrigation. Hoffman and his colleagues collected $100,000 for the design.

Taking home the $60,000 second place prize was a team from Loughborough University, whose toilet transforms feces into biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water through a process combining hydrothermal carbonization followed by combustion, which is powered by heat generated during the combustion phase of feces processing.

Loughborough University's toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
Loughborough University's toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)

The $40,000 third place prize was awarded to a University of Toronto team, whose "Toronto Toilet" uses a sand filter and UV-ray disinfecting chamber to process liquid waste and a smolder chamber, similar to a charcoal barbeque, to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried in a roller/belt assembly.

The University of Toronto’s toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
The University of Toronto’s toilet design (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)

A $40,000 Special Recognition Award for outstanding design of a toilet interface went to a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) and the Austrian design firm EOOS for their "Diversion" squatting toilet. This design separates feces and urine before they are then deposited in self-sealing feces containers and urine barrels ready for transport to a semi-central treatment plant where they can be processed into saleable products such as fertilizer and biogas.

The “Diversion” squatting toilet from eawag (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)
The “Diversion” squatting toilet from eawag (Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson)

The grants awarded to the eight Reinvent the Toilet challengers were part of $42 million in sanitation grants the Gates Foundation awarded last year that are intended to spur innovations in the capture and storage of waste, as well as its processing into reusable energy, fertilizer, and fresh water.

The winning Caltech toilet is described in the video below.

And if anyone has some witty alternative captions to go with the main image, please let us know in the comments.

Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Caltech, Loughborough University, University of Toronto, Eawag

Self-Contained, PV-Powered Domestic Toilet and Wastewater Treatment System

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20 comments
mooseman
"Error: TOILETPAPER.SYS not found - (A)bort, (R)etry, (I)gnore?"
Brendan Dunphy
Bill Gates can't make up his mind when asked what dip he wants with his stool....
Mike Hanlon
Congrats on a great headline - in the olden days, you'd have been the toast of the newsroom
DrFausto
Interesting invention, but I think the old latrine does a better job, with a small fraction of the cost
Ross Jenkins
Nice one mooseman. Whatever you do don't hit ignore, the resulting rash will sting more than the price you paid for the toilet.
BeWalt
Good for the Gates Foundation - looks like they are trying to do things that make sense. This is a great one but still a bit too technology-heavy: solar cells, batteries, controller, and there's even a filter that looks like the ones that need new cartridges every so often. To make a difference on a global scale, it will have to be far simpler, cheaper, and needs to be done without supplies such as filters, or batteries that will only last so long. Good start, but keep working.
john.f.turpin
I thought M$oft already did this with Windows 8.
Gotcha
Leave it to Bill to bring S**T to the meeting.
balance8
Something from "behind the curtains" There is an Israeli company PAULEE CLEANTEC (www.ashpoopie.com) who invented a brilliant ingenious device called "ashpoopIe" which turns dog's poo sterile and smell free. In a few seconds this ash can be left anywhere with no danger or harm. What we found out that parallel they are also developing ingenious CAT LITTER BOX which is based on same patent. More than that, the company has signed a JDA with one of the biggest international firm in order to develop those devices which hopefully will come in to the markets soon. It seams that based on same patents (which were already allowed in the US and Europe) and some new ones, the company is working also on developing some applications regarding human waste and can fit portable toilets for boats, yachts, aviation, trains, motor caravans etc and also can be good for summer houses, livestock, kennels, animals shelters and more. What I also found out that this company won recently $110K http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Grants-2012/Pages/PAULEE-CLEANTEC-LTD-OPP1058630.aspx http://israel21c.org/culture/a-welcome-scoop-for-dog-owners/ http://israel21c.org/?s=toilet paulee cleantec Does it all mean that we are going soon for better, cleaner and healthier world ?
JA Larson
I'd think the acquisition cost and maintainability would be criteria as well? Composting toilets are simple and cheap. http://www.oursoil.org http://www.ecosan.nl http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/in-fuel-cells-some-hope-for-urban-sanitation/? Field sanitation is a serious problem and a major health hazard. Open pit latrines contribute to disease distribution with flies and groundwater leakage. The next issue is how do you clean hands after defecation assuming there is even any TP? First person in contaminates the flush handle, etc. The Army had a CSA-level task force looking at early OIF problems. Basically the military uses burn-out latrines in areas where dug latrines don't work well.... the burn-out latrines create their own problems. Mixing diesel, gas, and human waste then lighting it has predictable errors (resulting in medical evacuations). These problems are magnified by the many small Forward Operating Bases (FOB) . Watch the Afghan documentary http://restrepothemovie.com A division is roughly 20,000 folks (a small city) so physically processing the waste can be a very large problem (aside from the health risks). These issues are not limited to poor countries. Large natural disasters (e.g. Katrina) and some areas of the US need these kinds of solutions.