Science & Tech
Canadian researchers help develop waste-free toilet for the Third World

Credits: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


LONDON, ON - Canadian engineers are part of an international team working to develop a toilet that would make human waste disappear in the Third World, one that operates without piped water, sewers, or electricity.

Jason Gerhard, an environmental engineering professor at Western University, is part of the group from the University of Toronto and Queensland University in New Zealand that just got a $2.2-million boost from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a prototype of their design.

“It’s exciting for us to be able to work on such an important problem that can really have an impact for so many. Millions of children are dying from diseases due to poor sanitation every year so to be able to make some kind of impact is very exciting,” Gerhard said.

Last year, the Gates Foundation invited the brightest engineering minds to develop a toilet that could be used throughout the developing world, where infrastructure is limited and millions die from diseases stemming from poor sewage facilities.

Engineers from the University of Toronto’s Centre for Global Engineering partnered with Gerhard and Jose Terero from Queensland University to design a toilet that disinfects and incinerates waste.

In August, the team got to demonstrate the science behind their toilet to Gates at an event in Seattle.

Working with local partners in Bangladesh, the team hopes to have an operational prototype toilet made out of readily available material that can be maintained locally by December 2013.

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- The toilet -- operating without piped water, sewers, or electricity -- disinfects and incinerates human waste.

- It uses a sand filter and UV disinfection to process urine, and a smoulder chamber -- similar to a charcoal barbeque -- to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried on a conveyor belt. The toxins left from human waste are removed completely.

- “We proved with over 50 experiments . . .that under a variety of conditions this stuff will smoulder very well and in just a couple hours you’re left with the clean sand that you started with and all the feces is gone. It’s a combination of really simple ideas that together make a really exciting potential for a toilet.” - Jason Gerhard, an environmental engineering professor at Western University

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