This time last year, Bill Gates made a claim. He would give $100,000 to anyone who could reinvent the toilet.
No, Gates wasn’t on a quest for his very own golden-seated, hi-tech monstrosity (to rival the most super of Japanese super toilets). No. The call was for a far nobler cause – toilets to save lives.
You may not realize it, but, as the Gates Foundation website explains, “Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year.” As our world becomes more urbanized, and slum dwellers an increasingly significant population, access to clean food and water becomes increasingly difficult to procure – at the expense of human life.
So when Gates demanded a toilet re-haul, he had very specific parameters in mind. These new toilets would function without water pipes/a sewer connection/outside electricity, transform human waste into useful resources, and, importantly, cost less than 5 cents per day.
Researchers from around the globe, including eight universities who were given grants as part of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, presented their concepts on August 14-15 at the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair” in Seattle.
For its solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity, the California Institute of Technology took home the $100,000 prize. In second place (and for $60,000) came Loughborough University, who designed a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. In third place (receiving $40,000) was the University of Toronto for its toilet that sanitizes urine/feces and recovers resources/clean water.
Receiving a special mention, as well as 40 grand, was Eawag (the aquatic research institute of ETH Zurich) and Austrian design firm EOOS, whose “diversion toilet,” which separates urine and feces and offers clean water, showcased an “outstanding design of a toilet user interface.”