The practice of open defecation and dirth of sanitation in developing nations kills 1.5 million children under the age of 5 every year, according to philanthropist Bill Gates.
So Gates and his wife, Melinda, are devoting $6.5 million to research and development project meant to reinvent the toilet for countries that lack the infrastructure to use the sort widely available in established nations.
This week, the Gates Foundation run by the couple awarded $100,000 to a solar-powered design from the California Institute of Technology, as part of its “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.”
The self-contained design used a solar panel to run an electrochemical reactor that breaks down feces and urine, converting it into hydrogen gas that can be stored in fuel cells as a back-up energy source. The water in the system is recovered and recycled for future flushes.
“Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations,” Bill Gates told Reuters.
The Gates Foundation has so far committed $370 million to the problem of sanitation and hygiene issues. The organization has given out more than $26 billion in grants since the technology entrepreneur turned toward philanthropy in 1994.
To be eligible for the toilet challenges, the designs had to meet these criteria:
- Operates without connections to water, sewer or electricity
- Removes pathogens from human waste while recovering valuable resources like energy and fertilizer
- Costs less than 5 cents per user, per day
For more on the Gates Foundation’s contest, check out this Grist article.