Last week, Sanergy travelled 9,000 miles to attend a science fair in Seattle. Our hosts were the Gates Foundation and the Reinvent The Toilet Challenge. Bill Gates is a strong advocate of hygienic sanitation for all, and his foundations have put their money where their mouth is. About 30 universities received $100,000 Grand Challenge grants to come up with better technologies for the toilet.

Sanergy was invited thanks to our great partnership with The Climate Foundation and Stanford University, which are working to convert human waste into biochar – a soil amendment that helps retain water and attract nutrients in the soil which, in turn, will improve crop yields for farmers.

For us, the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” is important because current technologies cannot possibly meet the needs of the 2.5 billion people in the world without access to hygienic sanitation. The modern-day flush toilet has not seen innovation since 1775. A reinvention of the toilet not only provides the consumer a useful product that is affordable and durable, but it makes sanitation financially viable through the generation of saleable and profitable products.

The technologies introduced at the Fair often felt like they were straight out of Waterworld – a urine purification system to get drinking water, harnessing the wind to stimulate a reaction that disinfects waste in a mere ten days (as opposed to one year naturally), using an extruder to efficiently empty pit latrines, and our favorite, developing colonies of flies to break down waste into a protein-rich animal feed.

Almost all of the technologies were still at the lab level. The next step is to find out if they can work in the field. That is really when we will know if the toilet has been reinvented. That’s where Sanergy enters and we’re thrilled to work with these universities as they set up field operations.

Thanks to the Gates Foundation and Echoing Green for supporting our trip to Seattle.

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