Reinventing the toilet: Gates foundation funds research into generating energy from human waste

Reinventing the toilet: Gates foundation funds research into generating energy from human waste

July 27, 2011 0 By Angie Bergenson

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is gearing up to bring a new generation of high-tech toilets to poor countries.

The foundation has announced that it will be investing more than $42 million in the development of new toilets that are designed to turn waste into energy. Scientists researching alternative energy have pegged this particular area of study as promising, but little has been done in the way of developing a system that could convert bodily functions into usable energy. Nonetheless, the foundation is seeking promising projects that could reinvent the toilet.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development program, announced the initiative during a conference in Rwanda. Burwell outlined a plan to provide $3 million in funding to eight teams of researchers in 2011. An additional $40 million will be awarded in the following year to developers of so called eco-friendly toilets.

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A team of researchers from the Delft University of Technology is among those receiving a grant from the foundation.

The team has developed a toilet which uses microwaves to turn human waste into plasma, which can be injected into fuel cells as a replacement for hydrogen. The plasma is known as syngas and contains a high concentration of hydrogen and monoxide. Initial testing of this method shows that a single toilet could generate enough electricity to power several homes.

While the effort may seem a bit far-fetched, the foundation has long been devoted to the discovery of new ways to use technology to improve the lives of those less fortunate.