Solar toilet recycles waste into energy

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Bill Gates toilet
Bill Gates, who has been on the front lines in finding global toilet waste solutions, observes one of the new toilet designs at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair.

Researchers from Colorado have invented a new type of waterless toilet that can recycle human waste to help plants grow and decrease greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. The researchers plan to distribute the toilets in India, where human waste is dumped and collected in unhealthy ways.

The toilet uses a combination of 8 mirrors and fiber-optic cables to concentrate sunlight and heat the human waste up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit in a small chamber! This effectively sanitizes (cleans) the waste and creates a special product known as biochar, which has a bunch of uses. According to the toilet inventors, the biochar can be burned for energy just like regular charcoal. If a soil mix contains about 10% of the biochar, it can hold up to 50% more water and retain plant nutrients much better. The waterless toilet is currently made to serve 4-6 people, but the researchers are designing a facility that can serve many households for less than 5 cents a day.

The special toilet is a response to the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” proposed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which encourages inventors to make a toilet that can both disinfect waste and create a useful product in developing and developed nations. Bill Gates, who founded computer giant Microsoft, now devotes most of his time to the charity that he and his wife created, and is leading the charge on creating new toilet designs. Over 2.5 billion people in developing nations don’t have proper toilet and waste management systems, so inventions like the solar one from the University of Colorado can have a big impact.

Featured image courtesy of University of Colorado. Image of Bill Gates courtesy of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.