Bill Gates’ charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have made a stink this week – in a good way. The charity is raising awareness of a significant problem all over the world today: the wasting of drinking water by traditional flush toilets. The husband and wife are seeking an end to the wasteful porcelain behemoths that sit hunched in bathrooms all over the globe, and this week, the charity hosted the ‘Reinvent The Toilet’ fair at its Seattle headquarters.
Twenty-eight different designs were unveiled at the event, each intended to cut back on energy expenditure and water wastage. The brief for inventors to follow was to produce a toilet which would operate without the need for a septic tank, running water or electricity. Three pence (five cents) per day was the maximum daily cost of running the device, and the invention would gain bonus points for being able to store or generate energy.
The winning team beat out the other twenty-seven competitors, whose designs included a device that transformed human waste into charcoal, one which replaced the running water element of the traditional flush toilet with urine and even one which used microwave technology to derive electrical power from solid waste.
The winning invention was spearheaded by Professor Michael Hoffman of the California Institute of Technology. Hoffman and his team had conceived a loo which would be powered solely by solar energy, and could generate electicity and hydrogen gas. Bill Gates was quoted at the event as saying “We couldn’t be happier with the response that we’ve gotten,’ as the winning team were awarded their $100,000 prize for first place.
A drop in the bucket, really, when you consider that the Gates Foundation has committed over $370m to its ‘future toilet’ initiative. The Foundation intends to launch a field test of its prototypes sometime over the next three years.
One of the designs from the Reinvent The Toilet fair aleady undergoing field testing is Walter Gibson’s creation, which uses the larvae of black soldier flies to biodegrade solid waste. The beneficial result of this process is that it also produces Earth-friendly animal feed, making it ideal for countries where livestock farming is difficult.
Gibson’s toilet is currently being tested in South Africa, where the lack of running water required for its use promises to revolutionise the country. Estimates from the United Nations name inadequate or ineffective sanitation measures as the cause of over 50% of the developing world’s hospitalisations. With the resources saved by removing the need to flush toilets with potentially drinkable water, new toilets like Gibson’s will give less priveliged countries a better chance of providing its people with safe water.
And as far as friends in high places go, the revolutionary toilet initiative couldn’t do much better than having the head of the world’s number one technology company on their side. And if they’re not number one – they’re definitely number two. No pun intended…