How do you build a better toilet? These teams in India have some ideas.

In March, the Gates Foundation announced the winners of its next toilet-reinvention challenge: A group of six out-there prototypes from Indian researchers.

The University of Toronto’s ‘Sanitation NoW!’ project was one of the 49 exhibitors at ‘Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India’. Their project is a community sanitation appliance that collects, rapidly disinfects and recovers nutrients from human waste.

University of Colorado Boulder was one of the 49 exhibitors at ‘Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India’. Their prototype, the ‘Sol-Char Toilet’, uses concentrated solar energy to transform human waste into commercially viable products such as solid fuel, heat and fertilizer.

Representatives from more than 45 nations gathered in New Delhi for the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India” to discuss solutions to bring sanitation to the 2.5 billion people who lack access to safe toilets. Innovative solutions, like those shown at the fair, demonstrated that by applying creative thinking and new approaches to more effectively managing human waste we can improve children’s health, dignity, and economic development.

he Earth Auger: Urine Diverting Dry Toilet by FUNDACIÓN IN TERRIS AND CRITICAL PRACTICES LLC is an affordable urine-diverting dry toilet that has functional and user-friendly features designed to increase the acceptability of dry sanitation. The various models, which require no water or energy, accommodate both high-density and rural communities, and can fit the financial constraints of low-income residences.

Reinvent the Toilet Fair participants interact with Eram Scientific Solutions’s self-cleaning communal toilet prototype, which features automatic sterilization after each use and incorporates multiple revenue generation options.

Six new Indian projects were announced by Prof. K. Vijay Raghavan, Secretary of India Department of Biotechnology & Chairman BIRAC at the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India”, an event held in New Delhi that showcased innovative products and approaches that aim to bring safe, affordable and sustainable sanitation to those who need it most.

The University of Toronto’s ‘Sanitation NoW!’ project was one of the 49 exhibitors at ‘Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India’. Their project is a community sanitation appliance that collects, rapidly disinfects and recovers nutrients from human waste.

2014-03-27

Co.Exist

6 Futuristic Toilets You Might See In Your Bathroom One Day

Fly larvae that transforms poop into useful products. A water-free toilet. These are just a few of the innovations coming from the Indian leg of the Gates Foundation's Toilet Challenge.

How do you build a better toilet—one that's safe, cheap, and efficient enough to serve the 2.5 billion people who currently lack access to safe sanitation? It's a question that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has grappled with for years, offering grants to all sorts of initiatives that promise to one day improve the depressing statistics around toilet use. Sanitation-related diseases kill more people than malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS combined, according to the CDC.

Over the past few years, 16 teams have received grants to rethink the toilet. In late March, the foundation announced the winners of its latest toilet-reinvention challenge: a group of six out-there prototype toilets from Indian researchers that will be at least partially funded by grants from the Gates Foundation.

In 2011, the Gates Foundation launched the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, which asked budding toilet researchers to come up with safe, cheap, and hygienic waterless toilets. The winner of the challenge, a team from Caltech, is testing its self-contained, off-grid toilet system in India (a detailed account of the team's progress is available here).

One of the prototype Caltech toilets made a pit stop at the Indian version of the Reinvent the Toilet Fair (the first was held in Seattle, Washington) in New Delhi. That's where the six winners of Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: India, were announced. They are:

  • An electronic, off-grid toilet from the University of South Florida and Eram Scientific Solutions (the company behind eToilets) that is modular, solar-powered, and has an on-board waste processing. The Gates funding will go towards field testing of the toilet in a suburban slum (it is intended to be a public toilet).
  • A proof of concept toilet from the Amrita School of Biotechnology that uses "viral agents to target and kill pathogens and odor-producing bacteria in fecal waste," according to a press release.

  • Another proof-of-concept toilet, this time from Pradin Technologies, that uses ultrasound technology to cut down on a toilet's water use and "enhance the settling of fecal particles" in its storage tank.

  • A project, developed by Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee and Fresh rooms Life Sciences, consisting of a container that cultivates Black Soldier Fly Larvae, which can turn human poop into useful products.

  • A water-free toilet developed by the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai that uses an air-blower and a sand-like material to keep itself clean, removing flies and traces of odor.
  • A toilet containing a new septic tank design that cuts down on pollutants, from BITS Pilani K.K. Birla Goa Campus, Ghent University, and Sustainable Biosolutions.

While the Gates Foundation is banking on the idea that these oftentimes pricey toilets will become more affordable, some people are skeptical of the entire Reinvent the Toilet enterprise. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Aditi Malhotra expresses the belief that "toilets need to be built, before being reinvented." She notes:

According to a government survey released in 2013, nearly 68% of households in the countryside do not have access to toilets. The 2011 census, the latest year for which data is available, found that more Indians have access to mobile phones than they do to toilets. The findings also said the situation was grimmer for 33 million lower-caste Dalit households, with 75% defecating in the open.

Reinventing the toilet may not solve the immediate problem of access, but if the Gates Foundation succeeds and technology prices drop, the toilets which are ultimately installed in new areas may be cleaner, more efficient, and even more environmentally friendly than anything that has come before. That is, of course, a big "if."

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2 Comments

  • Requiring a solar panel and battery/fuel cell is a big ask for something that is meant to be adopted by billions of the poorest! A prerequisite for Gates funding should perhaps be that the designers must live in a few areas without toilets for at least a month! The real solution will be a low tech ecological approach. There has to be a change in culture if any toilets are to be adopted. The problem is not that people defecate outside, it is that they are not aware that by not covering their shit or preventing it washing into water they are exposing themselves unnecessarily to disease. 100mm depth of moist worm activated soil is all it takes to eliminate virtually all pathogens including virus'. Simply teaching people with no sanitation where and how to progressively bury or even cover their shit safely and activate the plant/soil ecosystem with small amounts of water would eliminate sanitation related diseases and as a by-product produce desperately needed low risk food.

  • PlatypusMom McAllister

    Why use a "Science Fair" to show off these much needed prototypes when they could be getting REAL and useful data in the "slum" areas in a public toilet situation? The Gates Foundation wants to do good works = fund 5 of EACH of the top 6 toilets to be placed in the slum areas within 6 months of the funding for FREE public use for 1 year including paid techs to monitor and collect the data needed. If that means leasing a building and putting in hand washing stations then it is part of the funding. Just get it done and stop standing back, telling us what good you want to do - JUST DO IT. If you want our applause for how great you are , stop talking about how great you are and show us - JUST BE GREAT.