The occasion was a tour of a facility that burns human waste and produces water and electricity (plus a little ash). I have visited lots of similar sites, like power plants and paper mills, so when I heard about this one—it’s part of the Gates Foundation’s effort to improve sanitation in poor countries—I was eager to check it out.
The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle. And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.
Here’s a short video from my visit in November, which explains how it all works:
Why would anyone want to turn waste into drinking water and electricity?
Because a shocking number of people, at least 2 billion, use latrines that aren’t properly drained. Others simply defecate out in the open. The waste contaminates drinking water for millions of people, with horrific consequences: Diseases caused by poor sanitation kill some 700,000 children every year, and they prevent many more from fully developing mentally and physically.
If we can develop safe, affordable ways to get rid of human waste, we can prevent many of those deaths and help more children grow up healthy.
Western toilets aren’t the answer, because they require a massive infrastructure of sewer lines and treatment plants that just isn’t feasible in many poor countries. So a few years ago our foundation put out a call for new solution.
One idea is to reinvent the toilet, which I’ve written about before.
Another idea—and the goal of the project I toured—is to reinvent the sewage treatment plant. The project is called the Omniprocessor, and it was designed and built by Janicki Bioenergy, an engineering firm based north of Seattle. I recently went to Janicki’s headquarters to check out an Omniprocessor before the start of a pilot project in Senegal.
The Omniprocessor is a safe repository for human waste. Today, in many places without modern sewage systems, truckers take the waste from latrines and dump it into the nearest river or the ocean—or at a treatment facility that doesn’t actually treat the sewage. Either way, it often ends up in the water supply. If they took it to the Omniprocessor instead, it would be burned safely. The machine runs at such a high temperature (1000 degrees Celsius) that there’s no nasty smell; in fact it meets all the emissions standards set by the U.S. government.
Before we even started the tour, I had a question: Don’t modern sewage plants already incinerate waste? I learned that some just turn the waste into solids that are stored in the desert. Others burn it using diesel or some other fuel that they buy. That means they use a lot of energy, which makes them impractical in most poor countries.
The Omniprocessor solves that problem. Through the ingenious use of a steam engine, it produces more than enough energy to burn the next batch of waste. In other words, it powers itself, with electricity to spare. The next-generation processor, more advanced than the one I saw, will handle waste from 100,000 people, producing up to 86,000 liters of potable water a day and a net 250 kw of electricity.
If we get it right, it will be a good example of how philanthropy can provide seed money that draws bright people to work on big problems, eventually creating a self-supporting industry. Our foundation is funding Janicki to do the development. It’s really amazing to see how they’ve embraced the work; founder Peter Janicki and his family have traveled to Africa and India multiple times so they can see the scope of the problem. Our goal is to make the processors cheap enough that entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries will want to invest in them and then start profitable waste-treatment businesses.
We still have a lot to learn before we get to that point. The next step is the pilot project; later this year, Janicki will set up an Omniprocessor in Dakar, Senegal, where they’ll study everything from how you connect with the local community (the team is already working with leaders there) to how you pick the most convenient location. They will also test one of the coolest things I saw on my tour: a system of sensors and webcams that will let Janicki’s engineers control the processor remotely and communicate with the team in Dakar so they can diagnose any problems that come up.
The history of philanthropy is littered with well-intentioned inventions that never deliver on their promise. Hopefully, these early steps will help us make sure the Omniprocessor doesn’t join the list. If things go well in Senegal, we’ll start looking for partners in the developing world. For example I think it could be a great fit in India, where there are lots of entrepreneurs who could own and operate the processors, as well as companies with the skill to manufacture many of the parts.
It might be many years before the processor is being used widely. But I was really impressed with Janicki’s engineering. And I’m excited about the business model. The processor wouldn’t just keep human waste out of the drinking water; it would turn waste into a commodity with real value in the marketplace. It’s the ultimate example of that old expression: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Predicted by the World Food Organization, in 2025 1.8 billion people will live in countries and regions suffering from water scarcity.
In total, two thirds of the world’s population will be faced with this problem.
Over the past century, the growth rate of water consumption is almost twice faster than population growth.
Researchers tell that today 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water, 2 billion are constantly faced with scarcity of supply and another 2.6 billion do not have at their disposal necessary sanitary facilities (e.g. water supply).
70% of water consumed by mankind is used in agriculture.
In some developing countries agriculture’s zone reaches 90%.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), today four out of every ten people in the world do not have access to common toilets with dump wells and two out of ten are forced to constantly use contaminated water.
WHO operates the following statistics: 1.8 million people die each year from diarrhea diseases (including cholera), 90% of whom are children under 5 years old.
These diseases in 88% of cases are caused by using contaminated water and inadequate sanitation.
Improved water supply reduces diarrhea morbidity by 6-25%. Improving the quality of drinking water may reduce the incidence of diarrhea by 35-39%.
Improving access to safe water sources and hygiene practices can reduce trachoma morbidity by 27%.
Like the earth, humans and all other animal life are about three-quarters water. It is therefore no wonder that drinking plenty of water is so vital to our well being.
Many times a day we feel our energy levels falling and we reach for food when, in fact, we are actually in need of water. How often do we spend money and time on medical treatment for conditions which could have easily been prevented through proper hydration.
Experts say that we are often dehydrated even before we feel thirsty. Water is essential to keep us fit and healthy
6 Tips on drinking more water:
Add flavored packets If water alone bores you, take advantage of the new flavor packets that are sold specifically to enhance the taste of water.
Get fun to go containers Always have water with you or in the car. Get good size, fun colored containers. The larger the container, the fewer the refills.
Change your daily habits Wake up to your first glass of water.
Make it a rule to order water (with or without lemon) instead of a diet soda when you go out to eat.
Drink a glass before you eat Water helps to curb your appetite. It is easy to confuse hunger with being thirsty, so try water first. Drinking water makes you feel active.
Use straws, add ice and a lemon or even a small slice of orange Make this glass of water feel like a treat.
So what are we waiting for? Let us drink eight glasses of water a day. It is easy, costs nothing and the benefits are life changing.
So how much water should one drink each day? The question seems like it commands a simple answer, but the reality is that the response varies based upon your body’s needs. A lot of sources will tell you that you need a minimum of 8 glasses a day, but the truth of the matter is that you need to obey your own internal requirements.
Experts are now saying that there is no set number. Rather, when you are thirsty, you should drink. If you find yourself experiencing headaches or dizziness, chances are that you are depriving your body of water, whether or not you are meeting the 8 glasses a day standard. If your urine is highly concentrated and anything other than clear/very pale yellow in color, then that is another telltale sign that your body wants more.
So, how much should you drink? – Lots!
Six to ten glasses is a safe bet but if you want to be more specific it’s recommended you drink 50 – 75% of your body weight in ounces depending on whether you are sedentary or active.
You might also want to add a bit more if it’s really hot or you are working extra hard, so for example, a person who weighs 150 lbs, lives in a dry climate and is doing strenuous exercises should drink 75% x 150 oz = 112 oz + 15 oz (activity) + 15 oz (climate) = Total 142 oz per day.
A frequently quoted figure is that adults should drink eight glasses of water a day, although Dr John Leiper, an expert in fluid balance and hydration at Aberdeen University, disputes it. “The figure of eight glasses a day is completely spurious. There is no evidence that drinking that much water does anybody any good. Although it probably won’t be doing you any harm.”
While it is true that individuals will on average lose about eight glasses worth of water a day, it doesn’t have to be replenished by water: soft drinks, even coffee, all help rehydration. “There is nothing wrong with drinking coffee,” says Dr Leiper. “The idea that coffee is a diuretic is nonsense. Yes, if you give someone who is completely caffeine naive a lot of caffeine, then it will act as a diuretic on them. But if you are used to drinking a lot of coffee then it won’t – your body gets used to it.
In healthy adults, fluid intake is regulated by thirst. Water is an essential nutrient for life and is considered the ideal drink to quench thirst and ensure hydration.
Ironically, it is very often ignored as part of our dietary recommendations. Most people are familiar with the general recommendation for adults of eight glasses of water per day. Yet, estimating water or fluid intake requirements is not easy and individual requirements are highly variable.
The National Research Council (NRC) recommends a daily water intake of approximately 1ml/kcal energy expenditure. The eight glasses of water per day is based on this recommendation and on the average weight of a 70kg male.
No single formula fits every individual or every situation and water intake recommendations also depend on other factors such as activity, humidity, climate, body temperature and body composition.
Daily turnover of water is approximately 4% of total body weight and even higher proportions in children.
Water losses from the lungs and skin (insensible losses; 500 – 1000ml/day) are responsible for approximately half of the daily turnover and sensible losses from stools (50 -100ml/day) and urine account for the rest of the daily losses.
Yet, despite of changes in body composition and function as well as the environment, most healthy people manage to regulate daily water balance well across their lifespan.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) established the Dietary Reference Intakes for water . The committee established the Adequate Intake (AI) for total water to prevent dehydration.
Based on a wide range of normal hydration status of the population, the AI was established according to the median total fluid intake (water, fluid from food and other drinks). The AI’s for sedentary men and women (aged 19-50 years) is 3,71 and 2,71 litres per day respectively.
Solid food and digestion of food also contributes to this recommendation. Drinking fluids represents approximately 81% of total water intake, resulting in a recommended intake of 3,01 litres per day for men (12 glasses of 250ml) and 2,71 liters per day (10 glasses of 250ml) for women.
Migraines affect more than 36 million Americans – that’s nearly one out of every ten people! It’s also in the top twenty disabilities that cause people to miss work. The thing is, if they all knew this secret to curing and preventing these chronically severe headaches, that number would see a drastic reduction.
Fruit tea - one word describes it - DELICIOUS and HEALTHY.
Fruit tea comprised of browned shredded quince which has been oven-dried, dry-grilled until brown, and stored ready to steep in boiling water.