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Solving Sewage Situations Quickly Reinvented

May 25, 2024

Solving Sewage Situations Quickly Reinvented

A Toilet Tale from Côte D’Ivoire to Nottingham

Growing up in modest circumstances in Côte D’Ivoire, I didn’t even know a decent toilet was something worth having. Only years later, at university, after discussing with my medical-student friends about how diseases can spread through contamination and exposure to feces, did I realize the tragic toll poor sanitation had taken on my community – including the deaths of several of my own siblings. Sadly, my family’s story is far from unique.

Nearly 250 years after the invention of the flush toilet, a staggering 3.5 billion people – almost half the world’s population – still have no choice but to use unsafe sanitation facilities. As a result, half a million children under age 5 perish every year from diseases like typhoid, diarrhea, and cholera. Many more become sick, leading to an estimated $223 billion in annual health costs and lost productivity worldwide.

It was this sobering realization that first sparked my passion for environmental engineering and, eventually, led me to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s mission to “reinvent the toilet” and transform the global sanitation industry. Over the past decade, our team has made remarkable progress towards developing safe, affordable, and innovative solutions that could end the spread of these deadly diseases once and for all.

Flushing the Flaws of Conventional Sanitation

You see, conventional sewage systems with their water-guzzling flush toilets and massive infrastructure of sewer lines and treatment plants simply aren’t feasible in much of the developing world. In places where people rely on well water and lack the resources for high-capital projects, these solutions are essentially “flushing money down the toilet.”

That’s why, in 2011, the Gates Foundation issued a challenge to reinvent the toilet – creating a new design that could kill dangerous pathogens, potentially transform waste into valuable resources, and require no water, electricity, or traditional emptying to remain sanitary. The goal was to develop technology that could deliver the same benefits as flush toilets, but in a localized, decentralized, and far more affordable way.

Over the past decade, the foundation has invested over $200 million to support early-stage R&D into these breakthrough sanitation solutions. And the ingenuity of the innovators we’ve partnered with has been truly inspiring. At the first Reinvent the Toilet Fair in 2012, participants from 29 countries showcased designs ranging from solar-powered toilets that generated hydrogen and electricity to ones that turned human waste into charcoal or fuel gas.

From Poop to Potable: The Janicki Omni Processor

One of the most remarkable innovations to emerge from this initiative is the Janicki Omni Processor – a fecal sludge management machine developed by the engineering firm Janicki Bioenergy. As Bill Gates himself demonstrated in 2015, this machine can actually convert human waste into clean, drinkable water and electricity.

The key innovation lies in the Omni Processor’s ingenious use of a steam engine to power the entire waste-to-resource conversion process. By burning the fecal matter at an extremely high temperature (1000°C), the machine not only eliminates any hazardous pathogens, but also generates more than enough energy to sustain its own operations – with electricity to spare.

The next-generation Omni Processor is slated to handle waste from up to 100,000 people, producing 86,000 liters of potable water per day and a net 250 kW of electricity. And the best part? This self-sustaining system means it can be deployed affordably in low-resource communities without the need for external fuel or complex infrastructure.

Reinventing Sanitation, Transforming Lives

After seeing the Omni Processor in action, I was truly amazed. Here was a technology that could not only keep human waste out of the drinking water, but also turn it into a valuable commodity – a true example of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And the Omni Processor is just one of many revolutionary sanitation solutions to emerge from the Gates Foundation’s decade-long Reinvent the Toilet challenge.

Over 25 breakthrough waste-processing core technologies have now been developed and licensed to over two dozen companies for production, testing, and commercialization. These include innovative toilet designs from the Swiss engineering firm Helbling and the Nano Membrane toilet created at Cranfield University.

Pilots for these reinvented toilets are also underway in countries like South Africa, China, and my home country of Côte D’Ivoire – where the foundation is working with government leaders, the private sector, and technologists to advance promising new sanitation solutions. And just last year, the 2018 Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing saw even more exciting product announcements and funding commitments, including an additional $200 million pledge from the Gates Foundation.

A Loo-Seless Future for the Nottingham Community

Of course, transforming the global sanitation landscape won’t happen overnight. There are still significant technical and commercial hurdles to overcome before these reinvented toilets and waste-to-resource systems can truly protect the health and well-being of billions around the world, at scale.

But the progress we’ve made over the past decade has been nothing short of remarkable. And I’m thrilled to see these innovations starting to take root right here in Nottingham, where Adam Cleaning is proud to be at the forefront of implementing sustainable, environmentally-friendly sanitation solutions for our community.

By embracing cutting-edge reinvented toilet technologies and waste-processing systems, Adam Cleaning is not only helping to improve public health and safeguard our local environment – they’re also paving the way for a future where safe, affordable sanitation is a basic human right enjoyed by everyone, not just those with access to traditional infrastructure.

So the next time you flush, take a moment to reflect on just how far we’ve come in reinventing this most fundamental of human necessities. Who knows, with a little more innovation and a lot more collaboration, we might just be able to turn our collective sewage situations around for good.

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