Quantcast

Bill Gates-Funded Solar Toilet Converts Feces Into Soil Stabilizer

Business

This isn't the first time you've heard a college professor say his team of researchers is working on something that has never been done before, but it's likely the first time such a statement has been associated with a technology that takes advantage of both solar energy and feces.

Karl Linden, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder (UC-Boulder), and a team of post-doctoral fellows, students and other professors have created a solar-powered toilet capable of heating human waste to temperatures high enough to sterilize it and create biochar, which is porous and has multiple agricultural functions, including the encouragement of greater crop yields and soil stabilization.

To make things a bit easier, Linden has referred to the end-product as "poop-char."

Professor Karl Linden displays the "poop char" created by a solar toilet his team of researchers have developed. Photo credit: University of Colorado

The team's self-contained, waterless toilet includes eight parabolic mirrors that focus concentrated sunlight on a tiny spot on a quartz-glass rod that connects to eight bundles of fiber-optic cables. Each of those cables consists of thousands of intertwined, fused fibers. The solar energy transferred to the fiber-optic cable system can heat up the reaction chamber to over 600 degrees to treat the waste material, disinfect pathogens in both feces and urine and produce the char.

University of Colorado Boulder postdoctoral researcher Tesfayohanes Yakob, left, and research engineer Dana Haushulz look at the solar-thermal toilet developed by a team led by University of Colorado Boulder professor Karl Linden. Photo credit: University of Colorado-Boulder

“While the idea of concentrating solar energy is not new, transmitting it flexibly to a customizable location via fiber-optic cables is the really unique aspect of this project,” Linden said in a statement.

Why would anybody want to heat and treat human waste? Scientists have been doing it for years, attempting to find uses for it that range from animal feed to attempts at creating more drinkable water. According to UC-Boulder, unsafe methods to do this often result in serious health problems or deaths. About 700,000 children die as a result of food and water that contains pathogens from fecal matter.

The UC-Boulder team is one of 16 around the world since 2011 that has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge," which is an effort to develop a toilet that can create useful end-products while also disinfecting liquid and solid waste, operating off the grid, costing users less than 5 cents per user per day. According to the Foundation, there are about 2.5 billion people around the world without access to safe and affordable sanitation.

The Foundation awarded the team $777,000 in 2012 and has since received another $1 million.

All of the participating teams have shipped their inventions to Delhi, where they will be on display starting March 22 for scientists, engineers and dignitaries.

According to Linden, each of the eight fiber-optic cables can produce 80 to 90 watts of energy, for a total of up to 700 watts of energy delivered from the whole system into the reaction chamber. In December, tests at conducted at the university showed that the solar energy directed into the reaction chamber could easily boil water and carbonize solid waste.

The current toilet can serve four to six people a day, but the team is working on a larger facility that could serve multiple households simultaneously. Linden and the group are trying to secure additional investments.

“We are continuously looking for ways to improve efficiency and lower costs," Linden said.

Bill Gates has also funded a group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working on commercializing liquid-metal batteries that can store energy for less than $500 per kilowatt-hour.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A roller coaster on the Jersey Shore flooded after Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Hurricane_Sandy_New_Jersey_Pier.jpg: Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen / U.S. Air Force / New Jersey National Guard / CC BY 2.0

New Jersey will be the first state in the U.S. to require builders to take the climate crisis into consideration before seeking permission for a project.

Read More
The Director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu speaks on Jan. 26 during a press briefing on studying the 2019-nCoV coronavirus and developing a vaccine to prevent it. Roman Balandin / TASS / Getty Images

Editor's note: The coronavirus that started in Wuhan has sickened more than 4,000 people and killed at least 100 in China as of Jan. 27, 2020. Thailand and Hong Kong each have reported eight confirmed cases, and five people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the illness. People are hoping for a vaccine to slow the spread of the disease.

Read More
Sponsored
Healthline ranks Samoas, seen above, as the 11th healthiest Girl Scout Cookie. brian / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Nancy Schimelpfening

  • Nutrition experts say healthy eating is about making good choices most of the time.
  • Treats like cookies can be eaten in moderation.
  • Information like total calories, saturated fat, and added sugars can be used to compare which foods are relatively healthier.
  • However, it's also important to savor and enjoy what you're eating so you don't feel deprived.

Yes, we know. Cookies aren't considered a "healthy" food by any stretch of the imagination.

Read More
Actress Jane Fonda is arrested during the "Fire Drill Friday" Climate Change Protest on Oct. 25, 2019 in Washington, DC. John Lamparski / Getty Images

When you see an actor in handcuffs, they're usually filming a movie. But when Jane Fonda, Ted Danson, Sally Field, and other celebrities were arrested in Washington, D.C., last fall, the only cameras rolling were from the news media.

Read More
A solitary Dungeness crab sits in the foreground, at low tide on an overcast day. The crabs' shells are dissolving because of ocean acidification on the West Coast. Claudia_Kuenkel / iStock / Getty Images

As the Pacific Ocean becomes more acidic, Dungeness crabs, which live in coastal areas, are seeing their shells eaten away, according to a new study commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Read More