We all know that the best ideas and realizations come to us while sitting on the toilet. But, something that we don’t know, or at least doesn’t cross our minds, is that a huge part of the world’s population does not actually have access to such miracle facility.
A team of scientists from University of Colorado went on a quest to change this, and thanks to funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they were able to develop the first ever prototype of a solar powered toilet, which is not only kept completely sanitized but it also produces fertilizer, without wasting any water.
The project was conducted under the initiative “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge“. The basic principle behind the solar-powered water-less toilet is not new. It is similar to any other solar thermal system, where the energy from the sun is concentrated onto a small piece of quartz, and the heat is transferred into a chamber via fiber-optic cables, resulting in increase of temperature to 600 degrees F. This high heat is then used to sanitize the waste and turn it into biochar.
The properties of the biochar are numerous. On one hand, it can be used as fuel that is comparable with charcoal. On the other hand, when used as a fertilizer, it not only increases the water holding capacity of soils, minimizing the need of constant irrigation, but it also makes them much more stable and able to hold nutrients, and even some argue that it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The solar-powered toilet is a true innovation that can improve the quality of life of billions around the world. It did require quite a bit of initial investment, or nearly $2 million, to be a bit more precise, for the developers to construct the prototype that can serve a maximum of six people a day. But the guys believe that the technology can be expanded and turned into a design that serves a whole family, for the minimal price of only 5 cents per person a day.
Image (c) University of Colorado