A year ago, the Gates Foundation issued a challenge (The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge) to universities to design toilets that can capture and process waste without piped water and transform human waste into useful resources such as energy and water. On August 14th the winner was announced!
The California Institute of Technology won the challenge creating a self contained solar powered toilet that breaks down water and human waste into hydrogen gas for use in fuel cells (storable energy).
The challenge was created to offer an alternative for sanitation and hygiene in poorer countries. Western style toilets are not the solution as they use too much water, are dependent on piped water, sewer or electrical connections that are not affordable in poor countries, but neither is open defecation (the current sanitation system).
Bill Gates said that about 2.6 billion people, or 40 percent of world's population -- mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia -- lack access to safe sanitation and are forced to defecate in the open. Open defecation leads to major sanitation problems resulting in deaths. One statistic given by Reuters estimates that “open defecation leads to sanitation problems that cause 1.5 million children under 5 to die each year”.
According to an article by the Guardian, the world is still far from meeting the MDG target for sanitation, and is unlikely to do so by 2015. “Only 63% of the world population has access to improved sanitation, a figure projected to increase to only 67% by 2015, well below the 75% target in the MDGs. Currently 2.5 billion people lack access to an "improved sanitation facility", which hygienically separates human waste from human contact.”
Through this competition Gates showed the possibilities that are available “if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead” and hopes that many of the universities work together to develop the best technologies. Bill Gates is also aiming to get new-style toilets into use in the next two to four years.