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Inventors take on toilet challenge.

For a young child growing up in a developing country, going to the bathroom can turn into a life or death proposition. There is no trip down the hallway of a lovely home in order to reach the privacy of a sweet-smelling, pristinely clean room that those in developed countries take so much for granted.

For 2.5 billion people around the globe, the access to the most basic amenities of sanitation is just not there, said Dennis Warner, recently retired senior technical advisor for Catholic Relief Services' water supply, sanitation, and water resources development office. As a result, 1.5 million people, mostly those under the age of 5, die from diarrhea each year

"These unfortunate souls must defecate ... in the streets, near the river, a garden, the bushes, or the side of the road. In stark terms, this means that more than one out of every three persons cannot dispose of his or her bodily wastes in a safe manner," he said. Going to the bathroom outside in this manner pollutes nearby water or food supplies accessed by young children and domestic animals, Warner explained.

CRS works hard to reduce the health risks and the mortality rate. For instance, in Ethiopia, the agency has supported the construction of more than 80,000 Arborl00 latrines. The Arborl00 is a simple, clean, private family latrine that is converted to a site for a fruit tree after less than one year of use. But the need for clean, accessible toilets continues in every poor country.

Enter the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This past August, the philanthropic organization awarded major prizes to universities in a contest called the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.

Launched in the summer of 2011, the Gates contest asked inventors to develop innovative toilets that can process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections and turn it into sustainable resources like energy and water at an affordable price. The fourth criteria: invent a truly inspirational "next generation" product that everyone will want to use, in wealthy as well as developing nations.

Last year, the foundation awarded start-up grants to collegiate research teams. The first round of winners:

* The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena received the $100,000 top prize for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity.

* Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England, won $60,000 and second place for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals and clean water.

* The University of Toronto took third place and a $40,000 prize for a toilet that sanitizes solids and urine and recovers resources and clean water.

* Special recognition went to Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology for their urine-diverting model. It has a streamlined design that can be retrofitted and used anywhere there is existing space for a toilet.

The inventions were on display at a Reinvent the Toilet Fair Aug. 14 and 15 at the Gates headquarters in Seattle. They included a low-tech one from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This one puts black soldier fly larvae inside latrines and home toilets to process waste, resulting in high quality, environmentally friendly animal feed at a penny a day

An Aug. 14 Seattle Times story reported that the fly larvae project is already being tested in Cape Town, South Africa, and the developers are now producing a kit to sell to entrepreneurs. Inquiries about the method have begun arriving from Haiti, Sudan, Kenya and Ghana.

In the meantime, the Gates Foundation has awarded a second round of grants to four more institutions that have applied to develop even more prototypes during the next year:

* Cranfield University in the United Kingdom plans to develop a prototype with its $810,000 grant that removes water from human waste and vaporizes it using a hand-operated vacuum' pump and a membrane system, resulting in solids that can be used for fuel and fertilizer. The water vapor is condensed and is good for washing or irrigation.

* A $450,000 grant to Indian company Eram Scientific Solutions will make public toilets more accessible to-the urban poor via an eco-frienclly clean "e Toilet."

* RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in North Carolina, will use its $1.3 million grant to develop a self-contained toilet system that disinfects liquid waste and turns the solids into fuel or electricity using a biomass energy conversion unit.

* The University of Colorado Boulder's nearly $780,000 will go toward developing a solar toilet that uses concentrated sunlight focused with a solar dish to disinfect liquid and solid waste and turn it into biological charcoal that can replace wood charcoal or chemical fertilizers.

The Gates Foundation wants to field-test these prototypes within the next three years.

In a press release, foundation cochair Bill Gates said that he believes that these new toilets could be solutions for the First World and end up improving the environment. Flush toilets waste tons of potable drinking water each year, and fail to recapture reusable resources such as the potential energy in solid waste, he said.
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Author:Abercrombie, Sharon
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:0DEVE
Date:Nov 22, 2012
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