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2014: A Toilet Technology Odyssey

19 May 2014

Imagine a toilet that could charge your phone, filter your water and burn up your unwanted waste to create a magical charcoal block that could then be used to power your stove to cook your food. Sounds crazy right?

It’s not so crazy actually. Continuing on from our April story about Caltech’s solar powered toilet, Delhi played host to the second ever Reinvent the Toilet Fair on 22 March which is a showcase for technology developed by groups taking up the challenge as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a toilet that sanitises waste, uses minimal water and electricity and can be produced at a low cost.

To be successful at the Toilet Fair, scientists had to look beyond simply treating human waste as an undesirable bi-product and look at it as a potentially revenue generating resource for electricity, fuel and fertiliser.

Washington based Janicki Industries designed a mini powerplant that is fed directly from the waste of a small city. The power produced is enough to power thousands of homes.

The University of West England in Bristol showcased a pee-powered fuel cell that could charge a standard mobile phone overnight.

The University of Colorado designed a system that concentrates solar power into fiber optic cables. The concentrated heat incinerates waste completely and apart from being extremely sanitary, this process creates a charcoal like substance called biochar that can be used for fertiliser or cooking fuel. Along a similar sort of vien, Beijing Sunnybreeze Technologies Inc also produced a unit that dries human waste using solar power to create biochar.

Also seen at the fair were options that collapsed tidily for easy portability into disaster zones, slums or music festivals, and one prototype that emptied the waste into a pit populated with waste-hungry cockroaches and worms. Delightful.

The fair was a truly global event, with a total of 45 exhibitors from 15 nations in attendance and while the units on show are only prototypes at this stage, if anything the Reinvent the Toilet Fair demonstrates quite clearly that there are endless
possibilities for the humble toilet.

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