Always with an eye for invention, former Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is championing a new clean water innovation for those living in third-world countries. And where does all this clean water come from? From human waste, and Gates has called it “delicious” after downing a big glass.
“I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe,” he said.
On his personal blog yesterday, Gates said he watched piles of feces disappear into a treatment network only to emerge as drinking water. The facility that Gates visited also created electricity when it burned the poop. Other than clean water and electricity, the only other output, according to Gates, is “a little ash.”
The plant is part of the philanthropic Gates Foundation’s ongoing quest to improve living conditions in the poorer regions of the world. It’s the re-imagining of a sewage treatment plant called the Omniprocessor, and it was invented by Janicki Bioenergy, a Washington based engineering company. The Omniprocessor is about to make its way to Senegal where it will be part of a pilot project to provide more livable and sanitary conditions in the area.
Gates says that nearly 2 billion people around the world use latrines that are not properly drained and many just defecate outdoors, without any toilet facilities whatsoever. As a result, says Gates, waste water becomes contaminated, often with tragic consequences as some 700,000 children die each year because of diseases caused by poor local sanitation.
“If we can develop safe, affordable ways to get rid of human waste, we can prevent many of those deaths and help more children grow up healthy,” says Gates.
But instead of creating Western-style sewage systems and toilets, Gates believes that massive infrastructure is not really feasible in poorer countries.
The Omniprocessor, instead is a shared repository for human waste for areas without modern sewage systems. Home latrines will be emptied and the waste carted off the the Omniprocessor, which would burn the waste at 1800 degrees °F. The emissions, according to Gates, would even passed U.S. clean air standards.
Gates says that the Omniprocessor powers itself. The power it gets from one batch of waste is more than enough energy to burn the next batch. A more advanced processor, still in the works, will take on the waste of more than 100,000 people.
The next-generation processor will handle waste from 100,000 people, producing nearly 23,000 gallons of potable water a day, along with a net of 250 kilowatts of electricity, about a third of what the average U.S. house uses in a month.
Several years ago, Gates put the word out with inventors and entrepreneurs that he wanted to build a practical toilet that would be suitable for a families in poorer countries. To meet Gates criteria, the toilet had to take in the bodily waste of an entire family and output drinkable water and salt for food. The toilet would also have to convert the waste to energy that the family could use to help power its home. And last, it had to be inexpensive.
And while the inventors lined up, the best system that Gates could find was a solar-powered loo that converts human waste into energy for cooking. But it cost a hefty $1,000 each to build and wasn’t a practical solution.
The Omniprocessor, believes Gates, is a larger scale solution that should provide the same results as the toilet system he once sought.
Watch the video, below: