Bill Gates has a thing for toilets. More pointedly, he's concerned that 2.6 or so billion people don't have good ones. So his foundation sponsored the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, which showcases revolutionary toilet designs that seek to change the way the world poops.
There, the foundation awarded top honors to Caltech, which came up with a prototype for a solar-powered, energy-producing toilet. The toilet of the future, it turns out, runs on renewable power, and turns human excrement into energy.
Gates presented prizes on Tuesday ... handing Caltech the first prize of $100,000 for its working model of a solar-powered bathroom, where a solar panel produces power for an electrochemical reactor that breaks down feces and urine into hydrogen gas, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a back-up energy source for night operation or use in low-sunlight conditions.That's one hell of a toilet. Sounds expensive, however, and certainly technically complex. It's a little hard to imagine toilets outfitted with hydrogen fuel cells sprouting up in the developing world.
The workings of the toilet are designed to be buried underground beneath a conventional-looking stall and urinal set-up, which the Caltech team showed in cross-section at the Gates Foundation courtyard. Water recovered from the continuous process is pumped up again to provide water to flush the toilet.
Still, it's a good idea. We should by all means be better harnessing the power of our feces, and solar powered toilets are already being flushed in Dubai. After all, I can see no reason the industrialized world shouldn't be striving for such forward-looking lavatories, too—I have seen the future, and we defecate in solar-powered toilets.