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Turning Poop into Drinking Water

Has Bill Gates lost his mind? Drinking poop?! Not exactly. Last week, under the headline “How to turn poop into drinking water,” Bill Gates posted a video on his blog showing him drinking water that had just been created from sewage. Now working with a company called Janicki Bioenergy, Gates continues to fund the program that built this sewage treatment machine able to transform human waste and sewage into drinkable water, electricity, and pathogen-free ash. The revolutionary “OmniProcessor” is now poised to provide clean water and sanitation in developing countries around the world.

The OmniProcessor, which stands about the size of two school buses, works on a simple three-part system. First, it takes the human waste and sewer sludge up a conveyor belt, where it is boiled into vapor. Then, the dried sludge goes into a burner and produces high-pressure steam, which travels down to a generator to produce electricity that powers the machine and surrounding communities. Finally, the vapor that has been gathered from the sludge is processed through a cleaning system and transformed into clean, fresh H2O. The beauty in the machine is that it essentially powers itself. The energy produced from burning the solids is enough to run the machine and produce excess electricity.

“It does seem almost too good to be true,” Janicki said. “That was the only way it was going to work economically.”

Janicki says there is no new miracle technology involved, only the most modern and efficient application of existing, cost-effective technologies.

The machine had to be “created and designed from scratch,” he said.

It uses a steam piston engine, instead of a much more expensive turbine; a boiler “like what you’d see in a modern coal-fired power plant, but shrunk down a thousand times in size;” and a sophisticated dryer.

In the aforementioned blog post by Gates, he witnesses the entire process, from poop to pint glass:

“I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyor belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water. 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.”

The business model accompanying the invention also impressed the capitalist in Gates.

Janicki estimates an entrepreneur in India can within a few years recover the cost of buying the system, which is “somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million.” That’s because an OmniProcessor owner is set to collect money at every step of the sanitation chain. First, the owner is paid to take away the sewage that’s trucked in. Then, once run through the machine, the owner sells both the water and the excess electricity.

The revolutionary Omniprocessor has the capacity to process waste from 100,000 people, which equates to around 86,000 liters of drinkable water per day and 250 kilowatts of electricity, without violating any of the emission standards outlined by the U.S. government. It comes as no surprise that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has endorsed this project, and provided funding for the company to carry out its first demonstration project in Senegal.

According to Bill Gates around two billion people in the world use toilets that are not drained properly, leading to contamination of drinking water for millions of other people. Gates further remarked that over 700,000 children die each year as a result of poor sanitation conditions.

Though the OmniProcessor has immense promise the project will not be rolled out on a large scale for a little while. The prototype OmniProcessor will be shipped to Dakar, Senegal, for a pilot program later this year as Janicki continues to work on a more powerful version.

Updated: August 21, 2015 — 12:08 am

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