Solar-powered loo wins competition to reinvent the toilet

15 Aug 2012

A prototype of a toilet designed by researchers from the California Institute of Technology on display at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle, Washington. Photo via Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Michael Hanson

A solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity has attracted the US$100,000 first prize for its designers, researchers from the California Institute of Technology, at the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in Seattle, Washington, yesterday.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates announced the winners of the challenge to develop a ‘next-generation’ toilet that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to 2.5bn people around the world.

The awards recognise researchers from universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste to help improve the health and lives of people globally.

The $60,000 second-place prize has gone to Loughborough University in the United Kingdom for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water.

The third-place prize of US$40,000 went to the University of Toronto in Canada for a toilet that sanitises feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water.

Special recognition and US$40,000 has been awarded to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user interface.

A challenge to redesign the loo

One year ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued a challenge to universities to design toilets that can capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price.

The first, second, and third place winning prototypes were recognised for most closely matching the criteria presented in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.

“Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better,” said Gates, the foundation’s co-chair. “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.”

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic