Toilets Of The Future: Bill Gates Says "Now"
This summer an article was published from the Kansas City Star that tells us Bill Gates is setting his sights on world sanitation.
According to the Star, 2.6 billion people on our planet do not have human waste sanitation outfitted with a pipe water supply or sewer system. If you did not know, this means that forty percent of the people in our planet do not have the ability to use a toilet, and because of unsanitary waste conditions that result from this lack of sanitation over 1.5 million children in developing countries die every year.
Bill and Melinda Gates, who have already been working on a vaccine for malaria for over half a decade, are trying to redesign the toilet now, and they have given grants to universities to find a toilet that requires no pipe system, water, or electricity, and that can operate for less than five cents a day. Next summer we will hopefully be covering his challenge on Poop Report, as he has given the money to these eight schools to participate in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.
Already working on a design is the team from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). This awesome group of geeks (and I use the term in the best way possible) have begun to devise a solar-powered toilet that would harness daylight to break down poop instead of bacteria, which is what breaks waste down in compost piles.
The kicker in the article for me was what Delft University of Technology was cooking, a center of higher learning located in the Netherlands. These brainiacs are working on a microwave system, one that would convert our poop into “synthetic gas and electricity”. Wow. Microwavable poop.
This article got me thinking about the humble dunny. The modern bog is a wonderful bit of gear. A trip to your local hardware superstore will show that they come in all kinds of colours, shapes and sizes, but essentially they all work on the same principle: i.e. they take your poo – plus a fair volume of perfectly good, clean drinking-quality water – and send it down a network of pipes to a treatment plant, which then filters the solids, treats it with various chemicals, filters it some more, and depending on the location of the treatment plant, either processes the by-products further or pumps it all out to the sea.
The ideas in the article offer sensible alternatives to the wasteful (no pun intended) setup that we have at the moment.
A microwave toilet.
Compare a blacksmith's forge to a blast furnace at a steel mill. While they both do essentially the same job, the blast furnace does it on a scale of tens of thousands to one. Now, apply the same thinking to a microwave oven big enough to microwave the poo of tens of thousands of people.
I imagine a massive facility that looks like the world's biggest kitchen, and taking pride of place is a gargantuan white metal box with a glass door. All is quiet, save for the rumbling of the world's biggest magnetron, then the rumbling stops and a giant bell gives off a single “ding!”.
On opening the glass door after the time goes off, we see the world's biggest rotating platter and a pile of smoldering ash, a mountain of once-poop that is ready to be removed and turned into God-knows-what.
A team of workers with brooms climbs in and sweep the poop ash onto a conveyor belt while other teams of people stand by with bobcats and front-end-loaders, the buckets of which are filled with fresh poo, all waiting for the next cycle.
...what? The idea is for individual homes to be fitted with these units?
Oh, I see. It’s not that the poo is to be pumped to a facility, it’s that each home will have its own little microwave oven. Maybe the home owner can dial in the amount of microwave energy required. Maybe a chart hangs on the toilet wall with suggested times for “processing”, depending on what the person ate previously.
Would the user be expected to stay in the toilet until the timer goes “ding”?