With 2.5 billion people unable to access safe sanitation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’ inviting researchers to harness the latest technology to create a cheap, safe and hygienic waterless toilet.
The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) took out the top prize ($100,000 in addition to the original $400,000) for a mobile restroom equipped with a freestanding, self-contained wastewater treatment system, powered by the sun, that generates both hydrogen and electricity.
Kohler’s involvement in the project was the provision of toilets and other bathroom fixtures that provide the essential interface between the user and the waste system.
“It is exciting and certainly an honor for us to work with the Caltech team, who are true pioneers of their time,” says Rob Zimmerman, Kohler Co. sustainability marketing manager. “Kohler is known for pioneering innovative products and helping to advance technology, and through the Gates Foundation challenge, we get the opportunity to support others in their efforts to push traditional systems to a new level.”
In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started their Reinvent the Toilet Challenge with the intent of funding projects to address health and sanitation issues in the developing world. Reinventing the Toilet Challenge is an effort to develop “next-generation” toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it. The awards recognize researchers from leading universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste, which will help improve the health and lives of people around the world.
The Caltech prototype is important from both a hygiene and sustainability standpoint. All of the water is recycled within the treatment system or used for irrigation, and the waste is broken down for use as fertilizer and to generate hydrogen stored in fuel cells for energy.
In December the Caltech mobile restroom, housed in a cargo container, will be shipped to India where several families will use it and researchers will be able to adapt the unit functionally and culturally.