Apr 9, 2012
Do you recall a Time article last year that featured Bill Gates’ latest idea to improve sanitation in the developing and poorer areas of the world with the bold idea ofturning human waste into a usable natural resource? He talked the talk, and now he’s walking the walk.
You may have heard that the next big thing to worry about after the oil shortage crisis – if we even survive that – will be a shortage of clean drinking water. Lack of access to clean water is already a dire situation in developing and poorer parts of the world, but that problem looks to become a global pandemic if humans don’t come up with something to confront the shortage. But Bill Gates is on the case: he’s investing in a new technology that would effectively turn your urine-mixed toilet water into clean, refreshing drinking water.
The Microsoft founder is reportedly funding a new technology that’s currently being developed at Manchester University. Dr. Sarah Haigh, who specializes in the nanotechnology field of transmission electron microscopy, spoke with the Daily Mail about the funding she’s received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue the research. She says that by constructing a scaffold into a toilet’s design containing a mix of nanoparticles and bacteria would “react with the water to extract useful hydrogen, with the remainder filtered again to produce clean water.”
Her research team has already received $100,000 to get started but if they can demonstrate that their technology actually works, they stand to receive an additional $1 million to develop their research.
But Bill Gates isn’t done with your pee just yet.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also invested in something called microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that will essentially transform urine into electricity. The Foundation is financing a research proposal by a team at the Bristol Robotics Lab in the United Kingdom who plan create a sustainable source of natural energy from urine and “other waste-streams” (wanna guess what that is?). Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos, one of the researchers working on the project, believes that this type of technology could change the course of humanity’s future.
Dr Ieropoulos said: “Urine is chemically rich in substances favourable to the MFCs. At the moment the output from one MFC is small. Through this study and the related work carried out by our group over the years, we were able to show that by miniaturisation and multiplication of the number of MFCs into a stack and regulating the flow of urine, it may be possible to look at scales of use that have the potential to produce useful levels of power, for example in a domestic or small village setting.”
What’s the saying, “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for”? Think about that the next time you flush the toilet and consider that sometime in your lifetime, that may very well be how you stay hydrated and keep the lights on.