Posted By RichC on July 21, 2011
A scientist from California Institute of Technology developed solar-powered portable toilets for a self-power wastewater treatment solution to some of the sanitation issues of some developing countries.
Environmental scientist and engineer Michael Hoffmann believes that his “Self-Contained, PV-Powered Domestic Toilet and Wastewater Treatment System” concept, will be beneficial for developing countries, especially in Africa.—
Mr. Hoffman received a $400,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build the project. The grant will be used to complete the initial design, development, and testing of the sustainable system.
The solar-powered sanitation system is similar to the typical portable sanitation unit often found at construction sites and recreation areas. The system has a photovoltaic or solar panel, which converts the sun’s rays into enough energy to power an electrochemical reactor that is designed by to break down water and human waste material into hydrogen gas.
The hydrogen gas can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a backup energy source for nighttime operation or for use under low-sunlight conditions. He also plans on equipping the units with self-cleaning toilets that would also be powered by the energy from the sun and fuel cells.
A workable unit may cost around $2,000. However, the cost may get lower in mass production. After constructing a prototype using the Gates Foundation grant, Mr. Hoffmann would like to continue to enter commercial production of the technology to further refine the system and reduce its cost.
The project is one of the eight projects of the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” presented at the AfricanSan 3 sanitation and hygiene conference in Rwanda on July 19. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the grants as part of more than $40 million in new investments launching its Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene strategy.
In August 2012, all of the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” grantees will present their samples of different inventions and technology. The winning projects will receive additional funding for product development, industrial production, and commercialization.
According to Mr. Hoffman, “life expectancy correlates to the accessibility of clean water and proper sanitation practices. All of our efforts in biomedicine may go for naught if we don’t take care of sanitation.”
“To address the needs of the 2.6 billion people who don’t have access to safe sanitation, we not only must reinvent the toilet, we also must find safe, affordable, and sustainable ways to capture, treat, and recycle human waste,” says Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
According to the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund, about 2.6 billion people lack access to safe sanitation and almost half of this number practice unsanitary defecation. In addition, W.H.O. estimates that 1.5 million children die each year from diarrheal disease, which is often caused by poor sanitation. (Kristin Dian Mariano)