A self-powered toilet capable of turning human waste into drinkable water and energy is being developed by British researchers.
Relying on a nano-membrane that separates water molecules from solid waste and other substances, the portable low-cost toilet has been designed for people in developing countries without reliable access to clean potable water.
"The nano membrane toilet is a project that looks to serve the needs of people in developing countries to stop a major cause of the spread of diseases, which is inadequate sanitation,” said Jake Larsson, a PhD student at Cranfield University, a member of the team that is developing the revolutionary loo as part of a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"It is very diverse. Not only it is for developing countries, but it's also useful for developed countries, maybe for the military, they're always in desolate places, or for the construction industry or even for yachts.”
After using the toilet, the user has to close its lid to start the water cleaning process. Using a sweep mechanism instead of a flush, the toilet’s bowl rotates, moving the waste into a holding tank.
Once in the holding tank, the waste is sealed off behind an odour barrier, which prevents smell from spreading. After solid parts have been separated from water, the waste is passed into a gasifier, where it burns producing enough energy to power the unit and charging a mobile phone on top of that.
All that’s left from the stinky human waste is a little bit of ash that could be used as a fertiliser on fields.
"It is a household scale toilet that produces clean water and manageable, pathogen-free, disposable waste, it's self-standing, it's small enough to fit in someone's home,” said Larsson.
The device, which won the "excellence in the field of environmental technology research" award at the recent CleanEquity Monaco conference, will be field-tested in 2016, the team hopes.
The researchers envisage that communities will be able to rent the self-powered water-generating toilet for as little as 5 US cents per user per day from a local franchisee who will be responsible for maintaining the units.
According to estimates, there are currently some 2.5 billion people around the world living without sanitation in the world’s poorest regions, which are mostly unable to find resources to build water and sewage pipes.
The units could also replace smelly portable toilets currently used at public events such as music festivals.