Toilets that break down human excrement into harmless matter are being installed in Senegal with the aim of generating fuel for power plants.
Designed as a two-in-one solution, the toilets could solve not only the country’s severe electricity shortage but also sanitation problems arising from its growing population.
The population of Senegal’s capital Dakar, for example, has grown to 3 million in recent years, with most people occupying suburban shacks unconnected to sewage pipes. As a result, diseases such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis thrive in the area, taking their toll on the population.
The new composting toilets, developed in a project supported by Senegal’s government and charities, use worms to break down the waste, preventing excrement from contaminating water resources.
"If we want to have a healthy and productive society, we need better sanitation for everyone," said Sarah Nehrling, research manager for Innovations for Poverty Action, a partner on the programme.
A power plant that would utilise the treated waste is currently being built by the Gates Foundation and should be operational within a few months.
The business model envisions homeowners being able to sell their waste to the power plant.
Designed to generate some 1,000 megawatt hours of electricity every year, the plant would also extract drinkable water from the waste.
Initially, it would be able to generate enough power for about 5,000 people but the project’s proponents hope the technology could be scaled up.
Prices of electricity are extremely high in Senegal and blackouts are common.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the Senegalese pay up to five times more for electricity than inhabitants of other developing countries.
The country largely relies on fossil fuel imports but hopes to generate up to 15 per cent of its energy from renewable resources including wind and solar by 2025.
Poor energy access has hampered Africa's economic growth and poverty reduction. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says an injection of $450bn ($290bn) is needed to power every urban area by 2040.