Bill Gates Awards Grants for Reinventing the Toilet

Bill Gates Awards Grants for Reinventing the Toilet

A year ago, the foundation launched an initiative to tackle the problem of sanitation in the developing world. We called it the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. In this photo gallery you can learn more about each of the grantees and their sanitation solutions.

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.

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.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $41.5 million investment towards sanitation science and technology.

According to the foundation, only one-third of the world’s population has access to flush toilets, meaning that 2.6 billion people do their business elsewhere. And elsewhere leads to a number of deadly diseases that already account for half of hospital patients in developing countries.

Knowing that it’s not feasible to provide proper running water and waste disposal to these places, the Gates Foundation is hoping to improve developing countries’ crappy sanitation problems right where they start. It’s challenging universities to develop a toilet that will not only convert urine and fecal matter into safe material, but to convert the waste into energy and clean water, all with a cost of no more than $0.05 a day.

Last year, we wrote about a challenge that former Microsoft CEO and philanthropist Bill Gates posed to the scientific and engineering community: reinvent the toilet. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, forty percent of people on Earth, or about 2.5 billion people, don’t have a safe and sanitary way of doing their business, so the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge was born.

eawag toilet Bill Gates Awards Grants for Reinventing the Toilet

The diversion-toilet. In the foot underneath the toilet bowl the containers for urine and feces and the seal against odors. Behind the water-wall with opportunities for hand-washing, anal-cleansing and cleaning the bowl. On top the transparency indicator for the level of the cleansed water. Credit: EAWAG

This week, Gates awarded grant prizes to three universities for their innovative commodes. The California Institute of Technology won first prize for their solar-powered toilet that also generates hydrogen and electricity. In second place, Loughborough University in the UK designed a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. Third place went to the University of Toronto in Canada for their toilet that sanitizes fecal matter and urine, and recovers clean water. An honorable mention was given to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS, an Austrian design firm, for an innovative toilet user-interface.

Congrats to all the winners! Here’s to a less crappy world!

Here’s a fun video below from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that introduces the challenge:

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