One of the causes of the Gates Foundation is to improve sanitation in poorer countries around the world. In an attempt to find innovation solutions to this problem, Bill Gates is funding the Omniprocessor, a machine that turns human waste into electricity, ash, and (oh yeah) drinking water. Yes, you read that right: drinking water from human waste. Poop, in case it's not clear.
Peter Janicki, CEO of Janicki Bioengery, says in the promotional video: “The Omniprocessor turns sewer sludge — which is kind of nasty — into clean drinking water, electricity and, ash that is pathogen-free."
“Kind of nasty” is a bit of an understatement when we’re talking about sewer sludge.
On Bill Gate’s website, where he talks about his November visit to a Janicki Bioenergy facility, he states that because he studied the engineering behind the machine, he would “happily drink [the water] every day.”
So just what is the engineering behind the Omniprocessor?
First, the human sludge dumped onto a conveyor where it is carried up into large tubes. The sludge is then boiled within the tubes and as it’s being turned from wet sludge into dry sludge, the water vapor is separated from the solid waste. The dry sludge is fed into a furnace that creates high-pressure and high-temperature steam. This steam is sent to a generator that makes electricity to be used for the machine and to be sent off as excess. The water vapor created earlier in the process is run through a cleaning system that creates clean drinking water.
Why focus on bringing this kind of solution to developing countries? According to Doulaye Koné, a Senior Program Officer for the Gates Foundation, “The sanitation system as we know it in the developed world cannot in developing countries.”
Gates expanded on this in his blog post:
Western toilets aren’t the answer, because they require a massive infrastructure of sewer lines and treatment plants that just isn’t feasible in many poor countries.
The Gates Foundation plans to make the Omniprocessors cheap enough so that enterprenuers in developing countries will want to invest in them. The Omniprocessors are a bit of a money making machine. According the Janicki, entreprenuers who invest in a machine will not only get paid for collecting the sewer sludge, but also for the water, ash, and electricity the machine generates.
The Gates Foundation and Janicki Bioenergy plan to test the Omniprocessor in Dakar, Senegal sometime this year. If the test is successful, this could be a feasible solution to some countries’ sanitation issues.
But I still have some questions about the drinking water. Gates described his tiny sip of water as a “long taste,” but I won’t be convinced until I see somebody finish a cup.
Images: Gates Notes/Youtube (2)