With the “empowering people. Award”, the Siemens Stiftung (Siemens Foundation) would like to identify efficient technical solutions which empower people in developing and emerging countries to independently combat existential problems in basic supply.
The Stiftung is calling out to inventors and developers from all regions worldwide and invites them to enter simple and appropriate technical products and solutions in the categories Water & Waste Water, Energy, Waste Management & Recycling, Health, Food & Agriculture, Housing & Construction, and Information & Communication Technology.
Water & Waste Water The entries should enable individuals or communities to create, maintain and manage their water supply and/or their waste water treatment. Entries can range from less complex solutions such as a clay water filter to solutions such as UV Waterworks which uses ultraviolet light to quickly, safely, and cheaply disinfect water of the viruses and bacteria that cause severe diseases.
Water & Waste Water may not be the smartest name for a category that will certainly also include solutions that a) try to avoid conventional waste water in the first place and b) ultimately have to deal with sludge treatment which will rather be covered by the “Waste Management & Recycling” category. Hence, an interdisciplinary approach will be most likely. I take it though that most classifications in categories are meant to help inventors only, and not to limit them.
“The project also aims to build up a database of inventions that is accessible to actors in developmental cooperation.”, the FAQ go on explaining. This actually really is the sweetest part next to the 50k EUR prize for the 1st winner, because such a database on inventions is often asked for. Here’s a good example of such a database, initiated by Engineering for Change (E4C). Let’s hope they’ll also open it up to the public and do not keep it accessible to dev aid coops only.
Deadline for entries is 31st December 2012 and the best entries will be honoured in an Awards Ceremony in Summer 2013. Good luck!
In June 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded eight universities grants of approximately $400,000 to leverage, in one year, advances in science and technology to create a waterless, hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world.
Bill Gates with a researcher from California Institute of Technology at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle on August 14, 2012. (src: http://www.gatesfoundation.org)
On August 14th and 15th 2012, the Gates Foundation hosted the Reinvent the Toilet Fair to showcase the work of these teams and awarded the first winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge:
A team from the California Institute of Technology won the top prize of $100,000 for a self-contained, solar-powered toilet and wastewater treatment system.
In this system, a solar panel produces power for an electrochemical reactor that is designed to break down water and human waste into hydrogen gas. The gas can then be stored for use in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a backup energy source for nighttime operation or use under low-sunlight conditions. (src & image credits)
“They would repurpose the solar panels and batteries to powering TVs and charging cell phones and go back to shovels for their sanitary needs”, says one commentator on YouTube.
A group from Loughborough University in the U.K. took second place for a toilet that transforms faeces into a biological charcoal (biochar) through hydrothermal carbonization (decomposition at high temperatures without oxygen and in water) of faecal sludge.
The proposed system will be powered from heat generated by combusting the produced biochar and will be designed to recover water and salts from faeces and urine. (src & image credits)
A group of chemical engineers from University of Toronto, Canada developed a system which sanitizes waste within 24 hours:
It’s a technology for treating solid waste streams through mechanical dehydration and smoldering (low-temperature, flameless combustion) that will sanitize faeces within 24 hours. Urine will be passed through a sand filter and disinfected with ultra-violet light. (src & image credits)
The press release also included the winners of round 2 – a much debated challenge as it included a requirement for “prototyping and testing entirely stand-alone, self-contained, practical sanitation modules which intake bodily wastes and swiftly dispose of them without any incoming water piping, outgoing sewer piping or electric or gas utility services”.
Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Round 2 Winners
This nearly $810,000 grant will help develop a prototype toilet that removes water from human waste and vaporizes it using a hand-operated vacuum pump and a unique membrane system. The remaining solids are turned into fuel that can also be used as fertilizer. The water vapor is condensed and can be used for washing, or irrigation.
Contact: Fiona Siebrits/ +44 (0) 1234 758040 / f.c.siebrits at cranfield.ac.uk
Eram Scientific Solutions Private Limited
A grant of more than $450,000 will make public toilets more accessible to the urban poor via the eco-friendly and hygienic “eToilet.”
Contact: Manohar Varghese / +91 9747060700 / manohar at eramscientific.com
This $1.3 million grant will fund the development of a self-contained toilet system that disinfects liquid waste and turns solid waste into fuel or electricity through a revolutionary new biomass energy conversion unit.
Contact: Lisa Bistreich-Wolfe / +1 919.316.3596 / lbistreich at rti.org
University of Colorado Boulder
A nearly $780,000 grant will help develop a solar toilet that uses concentrated sunlight, directed and focused with a solar dish and concentrator, to disinfect liquid-solid waste and produce biological charcoal (biochar) that can be used as a replacement for wood charcoal or chemical fertilizers.
Contact: Karl Linden / +1 303 302 0188/ Carol Rowe / +1 303 492 7426 / Carol.Rowe at colorado.edu
Also, an interesting comment on Bill Gates’ blog post “Inventing a Toilet for the 21st Century” caught my attention as it has some interesting arguments: “…(…) the challenge is more about planning, management, planning, financing, energy use/sourcing (…), costs, implementation, and, in more developed regions, dealing with tech verifications costs and regulatory issues. Technology is not the first deficiency in promoting effective sanitation. (…) many toilet innovations do not make it to market because the tech verification costs (NSF, etc.) costs $40,000+ and testing programs either do not address new configurations (such as 2-drain toilets) and are too expensive. Add to that arbitrary conventions, such as the illogical traditional siting of the toilet drain pipe in the U.S., which forces the use of higher flush volumes, and you get a stalled innovation market. (…).”
So, obviously, there’s much more to the picture than a reinvented toilet system alone. “A big part of the challenge is technological.”, writes Bill Gates on his blog. And the publicity the BMGF has brought to the sanitation sector in the past few years is truly immense. “We also have to work closely with governments, businesses, and communities to stimulate demand for better sanitation, encourage investment, and create supportive public policies that will allow these innovative solutions to succeed.”, he argues. Well, exactly.
And the best part? All of the future technologies aren’t limited to some “developing” countries only. It’s a global issue, and I am glad that someone as prominent as Bill Gates or Prince Willem-Alexander are promoting our core issue here. Great stuff!
The GLAAS 2012 report shows that in many countries policies and programmes underemphasize adequate financing and human resource development to sustain the existing infrastructure and to expand access to sanitation, drinkingwater and hygiene services. Financing is insufficient and the institutional capacity to absorb what is available is limited. The danger of slippage against the MDG target is real.
The GLAAS report presents data received from 74 developing countries, up from 43 in 2010; and from 24 bilateral and multilateral agencies covering 90% of global official development assistance funds. UN-Water GLAAS has been designed in response to the need to reduce the reporting burden and harmonize different reporting mechanisms of UN-family Member States. GLAAS is increasingly used as a tool for more informed decision-making and is taking up the challenge of making necessary information available.
You may or may not have heard of the Cradle to Cradle® design concept – an approach to environmental engineering where materials flows are analysed and optimized to enhance the quality of products for the user so that they are more practical for the user, healthier for everyone affected by the product, and beneficial for the economy and the environment.
Quality enhancement is achieved by focusing on three innovation principles:
Everything is designed to be a nutrient for something else (waste = food)
Use (of) renewable energy produced from current solar income
Support diversity including conceptual, cultural and biodiversity.
A Cradle to Cradle trade fair, held in 2008 in Frankfurt, Germany, already showed C2C products and concepts – mainly from US, Dutch and Austrian manufacturers. This new design concept may just be one side of the medal – the other one being that William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the two inventors behind Cradle to Cradle, actually took this a step further and created a certification: the Cradle to Cradle® Certification.
Now, my question to you, dear readers, is: what do you think – would it make sense to obtain such a C2C certification for one of the existing or a future sanitation (toilet) system?
My assumption as someone who has been active in the field of sustainable sanitation is that most activists in this sector are scientists, who have in the past missed to really market their approaches. It’s because they are mainly scientists and only sometimes business people, where the creation of a problem-to-be-analyzed is more attractive than a marketable solution. This may of course be only one out of many other reasons why sanitation as such has been so neglected as an important issue for every human on this planet (don’t get me started on the public toilets situation in most countries…).
I am a great fan of the “Reinventing the Toilet“-approach, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as I believe that real acceptance of reuse-orientated sanitation systems in the developing world will only be possible when the rest of the developed world also starts using a reinvented type of toilets.
Also, a good product may also be made of high quality materials (which could then be recycled, thus kept in a technical loop) and I can also imagine a different type of ownership for the 21st century – where products aren’t “owned” by their users, but instead leased for a period of 15-20 years. This would enable a much more natural recycling where older products would just be given back to the manufacturer.
So the question really is: would such a C2C certification be a catalyst within the redesign process, and would it be an ultimate marketing tool that would also help changing the general perception of toilets (as a taboo that no one likes to talk about)?