When we consider technological advances that have moved mankind forward very few of us think about sewage systems. The ancient Romans seemed to understand that it was desirable to move sewage away from living spaces as evidenced by ancient ruins of latrines and a complex covered sewage system, Cloaca Maxima, as it is known. It didn’t solve all the problems, however, as it was designed to dump raw sewage directly into the river.

Even though today we know that poor sanitary conditions can lead to serious health risks the World Health Organization predicts that by next year 2.7 billion people or roughly 40% of the world’s population will be without adequate sanitation systems. Poor sanitation also has negative economic and general environmental impact globally. The World Bank estimates that $260 billion is lost every year because of disease and death directly related to inadequate sanitation systems.

Beginning in 2011 the Gates Foundation, founded by Bill and Melinda Gates, issued a challenge to reinvent the toilet. Participants were asked to develop sustainable sanitation solutions to address the issue of inadequate sanitation. Recently, some of the winners of the challenge and other ideas were showcased at a toilet-tech fair in New Delhi. The ideas are revolutionary and surprising, some observers even think that we may see some of these innovations in western sewage treatment schemes. Here are some of entries that we found most interesting.

University of Colorado, Boulder – A solar toilet that uses concentrated sunlight, directed and focused with a solar dish and concentrator, to disinfect liquid-solid waste and produce biochar that can be used as a replacement for wood charcoal or chemical fertilizers. Click here to listen to an interview with Karl Linden, a researcher who worked on this entry.

California Institute of Technology – A self-contained, solar-powered toilet and wastewater treatment system in one. A solar panel will produce enough power for an electrochemical reactor that is designed to break down water and human waste. Excess power can be stored to provide energy for nighttime operation or for use under low-sunlight conditions.

Cranfield University, United Kingdom – A toilet that removes water from human waste and vaporizes it using a hand-operated vacuum pump and a unique membrane system. The remaining solids will be turned into a safe-to-handle material that can also be used as fertilizer. The water vapor will be condensed and sanitized so it can be used for washing or irrigation.

Duke University – A technique to treat fecal sludge using supercritical water oxidation, a process in which water is heated under pressure and then oxygen is added to burn up human waste. The reaction produces clean water, heat, carbon dioxide, benign salts, and nitrogen, all of which can be used by the community or turned into business opportunities.

The University of the West of England, Bristol – Although not a grant winner we thought this was a very intriguing idea. They showcased a urine-powered fuel cell to charge cellphones overnight. While we can’t help you implement any of these solutions right now we can help you with low flow or dual flush toilets that reduce water usage. We service all makes of toilets but feature Toto brand toilets.

Contact us to find out more including how we can assist you in getting a rebate from your water purveyor for installing a water saving toilet.