DURHAM, N.C. -- Like alchemists, engineers from Duke University and the University of Missouri are developing a process to turn sewage into drinkable water, energy and useful byproducts at a cost of less than a nickel per person per day.
In addition to the technological aspects of the project, the researchers are investigating plans to make the technology economically self-sustaining in developing countries, since many areas with the greatest sanitation challenges are typically urban and low-income. The new approach will operate without connections to water, sewer or electrical lines.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the team's efforts with a $1.18 million grant as part of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Researchers expect that a working prototype will have been constructed at Duke in 15 months. It will be tested first in the U.S. and then deployed in South Africa, India or Ghana, depending on the results of ongoing feasibility studies.
"We not only want to design and build the right piece of equipment to improve sanitation, but one that is well-integrated into its community, both economically and socially," said Marc Deshusses, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering and principal investigator of the project. "We expect the end products of the process will be used by the communities to build businesses that make it self-sustaining."
The proposal is to produce a self-contained "toilet" unit that can be transported to locations overseas in a 20-foot container. The prototype will have the capacity to handle the daily fecal waste of about 1,200 users collected from community centers or neighborhood latrines directly piped or transported to the facility for processing.
Deshusses, who received a grant from the Gates Foundation in 2011 to develop a novel sanitation system for the developing world, describes the technology that powers the process as a "press
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