Loughborough University wins prize for its reinvented toilet

Loughborough University has won $60,000 (£38,000) in a competition organised by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a reinvented toilet that is clean, safe, durable and affordable for the poor without the need for connection to electricity or a sewer.

According to a statement, the reinvented toilet should be a viable solution in wealthy nations as well as in the developing world where 2.5 billion people lack access to safe and affordable sanitation.

The prize was awarded to the Loughborough team for its prototype toilet, which aims to convert human waste into carbonised material to provide heat, minerals for soil conditioning and water for flushing and hand washing. 

It uses continuous thermal hydrocarbonisation, which kills pathogens to create safe-to-handle material and uses power from heat generated during processing. The toilet is designed to work in both single-family and multi-user contexts, with daily running costs of just a few pence per person. 

Three prototype technologies were recognised for most closely matching the criteria for the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. 

Loughborough was awarded second prize, with the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) and the University of Toronto respectively receiving first and third prizes.

CALTECH’s toilet uses the sun to power an electrochemical reactor. The reactor is said to break down water and human waste into fertiliser and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy. The treated water can then be reused to flush the toilet or for irrigation.

The University of Toronto’s toilet uses a sand filter and UV-ray disinfecting chamber to process liquid waste and a smolder chamber to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried in a roller/belt assembly. According to the university, the toilet is sustainable and easy to use and processes waste while protecting the community from contamination.