Caltech’s solar powered toilet turns human waste into energy and fertilizer

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet” competition has finally seen the winner. Researchers from California Institute of Technology have been awarded $100,000 for their design – a solar powered toilet that recycles water and produces hydrogen and fertilizer from human waste. According to the WHO around 2.5 billion people in the world don’t have access to proper sanitary toilets and these are the people who mostly don’t have electricity to power disinfection and decontamination systems.

Answering both these problems, the innovative toilet designed by the researchers at Caltech features an electrochemical reactor that is powered by renewable solar energy. The reactor breaks down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen. While the fertilizer can be used in farming, the hydrogen produced by the system can be used to produce electricity using a hydrogen fuel cell. Moreover, the system also decontaminates and stores water, which can then be reused in irrigation or for flushing the toilet.

The system can be designed in a variety of ways such as the one including a western toilet, urinals and the one that includes the toilet primarily used in some Asian countries. The challenge in part of a larger $40 million program initiated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to devise systems that can tackle the issues of water scarcity, sanitation and hygiene in developing countries.

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