Bill Gates and his philanthropic foundation are looking to flush away the world’s potty problem. Gates has awarded a whopping $100,000 first place prize to the California Institute of Technology for an innovative toilet design. But it is not just any old toilet! This potty is solar powered and recycles water and breaks down human waste into energy.
How does it work? Reuters reports: “A solar panel produces power for an electrochemical reactor that breaks down feces and urine into hydrogen gas, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a back-up energy source for night operation or use in low-sunlight conditions. The workings of the toilet are designed to be buried underground beneath a conventional-looking stall and urinal set-up, which the Caltech team showed in cross-section at the Gates Foundation courtyard. Water recovered from the continuous process is pumped up again to provide water to flush the toilet.”
Caltech was not the only recipient from the philanthropic billionaire’s foundation: Britains’s Loughborough University and Canada’s University of Toronto won second and third place, respectively. Loughborough University won $60,000 for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water, while The University of Toronto was awarded $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water.
In addition to this generous contribution, Gate’s foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pledged $3.4 million to toilet innovations being worked on by various organization. Wondering why Gates is so invested in toilet technology? His foundation aims to improve health in developing worlds and unfortunately, sanitation problems caused by open defecation claims 1.5 million lives of children under the age of five. And while it is easy to suggest a traditional commode used in the Western world, the traditional toilet design uses too much water and requires a complex sewer infrastructure, which many developing countries cannot afford. The shocking numbers back up his eandeavors: It has been estimated that 40 percent of the world’s population (roughly 2.6 billion people) are forced to defecate in the open due to lack of safe sanitation.
Gates stated, as reported by Reuters:
“Imagine what’s possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead. Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations.”
The innovative toilets were showcased at the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair” this past Tuesday and Wednesday in Seattle, bringing together close to 200 researchers, designers and investors from 29 countries around the world. In order to qualify, the toilets must operate at a cost of 5 cents a day, not discharge pollutants, and function without running water, electricity or a septic system.