Technologist, billionaire, titan of industry, and philanthropist Bill Gates has been spending a lot of time lately looking at toilets.
And no, it wasn’t due to a rough night at a Mexican restaurant.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a $370 million challenge last year to reinvent toilets for the huge chunk of the world’s population that doesn’t have access to modern sanitation — a major cause of disease and death.
So the world has come to Seattle to showcase new toilet technology that safely disposes of … shall we say say, unwanted byproducts. Most modern toilets require a vast sewage infrastructure, which developing nations don’t have and in many case won’t have for years. The Gates Foundation is looking for alternatives that don’t require pipes, that turn unmentionables into “valuable resources, like clean-burning fuel, fertilizer, and — believe it or not — fresh water.”
The results range from toilets that turn your output into energy input (electricity that can be used in homes that are not on the grid) to toilets that produce charcoal or even clean water. Another dries and burns feces and uses the resulting power to run lights and charge your cellphone.
There’s even a project already in testing in South Africa that uses black soldier fly larvae inside the toilet to transform waste into animal feed. I’m not sure who volunteered to test that one.
One good thing … to make experimenting a little less personal, the Gates Foundation bought 200 liters of fake crap to test all these miracles of modern toilet technology.
Because not all innovation is in software and electronics.