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The $6 Million Dollar Toilet

$6 million dollar toilet

Image source: Caltech/Michael Hoffmann

Sanitation is still a major problem in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF have released a report stating that about 2.3 billion people, which is approximately 40% of the world’s population, lack access to safe sanitation.

UNICEF estimates that 1.5 million children die every year because of poor sanitation which causes diarrohea and other deadly diseases.

A contest titled “Reinvent the Toilet” funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted more than $6 million dollar to design self-sufficient toilets that could be used in developing countries.

Many leading universities designed models of low outlay and innovative prototype but the million dollar project was bagged by researchers from Caltech, their project was titled “Solar powered sanitation system”.

The second prize was bagged by a team from Loughborough University which proposed a prototype which converts faeces into biological charcoal and water. They received a cash prize of $60,000 and $40,000 was awarded to a team from the University of Toronto who used sand filters and UV rays to process liquid waste and solid waste separately.

The working model proposed by Caltech might be complex in structure but the operation is simple and effective.

It has solar panels which convert the sun’s rays into power, driving the electrochemical reactor. This chamber breaks the water and human waste into hydrogen gas. This hydrogen gas can then be stored in fuel cells which can be used to generate electricity or can also be used as backup energy for night time operation of these restrooms. The water on the other hand is dehydrated from the human waste and treated. It can be reused in restroom cleaning or for flushing the toilet.

Another significant characteristic of this prototype is that it could fit into any workspace or recreation area, it can also be installed like a mobile restroom. Each unit costs $2,000 to manufacture but when doing it in large scale the price will lower significantly.

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