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Researchers from Duke University and the University of Missouri are building a sewage system that turns human waste into drinking water. Photo via Duke.

Drinking our own poop is not healthy. But when you take human waste, heat the crap out of it — literally — and send it through a super pressure cooker with a little bit of oxygen, the end result could actually be drinkable water.

billmelindagatesfoundationlogoResearchers at Duke University and the University of Missouri are in the process of building a system that does such a thing. They received $100,000 as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet” research competition two years ago, and now the scientists just landed $1.18 million more to continue working on something that could very well turn sewage waste into water, energy and other byproducts.

Here’s how it works. Inside a moveable 20-foot container that can be shipped across oceans is something researchers call a “pressure cooker on steroids,” or in more scientific terms, supercritical water oxidation (SCWO).

“When you heat water above 705 degrees Fahrenheit under pressure, it becomes a ‘supercritical fluid,’ thicker than steam but less dense than water,” co-principal investigator William Jacoby said in a press release. “When we add oxygen to the process, it quickly ‘burns up’ any carbonaceous materials, including human waste.”

The researchers are also trying to find ways to make the system, which requires no electricity, economically viable. The byproducts could potentially be used for community showers or laundry facilities, for example.

Plans are in the works to have a prototype built in 15 months at Duke. If all goes well, the system will be deployed to places like South Africa, India and Ghana.

It certainly could be a useful solution for an ongoing problem. According to the World Health Organization, 2.4 billion people don’t have access to improved sanitation facilities, and about 2 million people die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases, most of them young children.

Previously on GeekWire: A place to poo: Seattle may install a $90,000 public toilet downtown … Bill Gates wants to reinvent the toilet, from the user interface to the back end

Comments

  • Don

    Windows 8: helping turn your poop into drinking water.

    • Mark

      Why not stick to one alias, like asshat_troll, and every time we see it we’ll just assume the predictably negative and childish comment to follow? It will save you a lot of time writing and us time reading. Win win.

      • http://www.techmansworld.com/ Michael Hazell

        How would you know a user who you think is posting comments is the same person? Since they don’t have a profile you can’t easily track comments that they made.

  • guest

    So is there an app for poop to know what kind is the best for water…PoopApp.com

  • http://www.datadyne.org Joel Selanikio

    Not sure what problem this is solving: too much waste? Not enough drinking water? To produce drinking water, I suspect it would take less energy (but provide less PR to Gates) to just boil local water sources. The article also suggests that this could be used to produce energy, but provides no information on how pumping lots of energy into this system (to superheat the water) would somehow lead to a net energy gain.

    • David

      perhaps in all the energy used to make it super-critical, a lot of energy is lost. Maybe theyre looking to capture that “lost” energy and reuse it in another way. I believe this is mostly for sanitation purposes. The whole “digging a hole in the town square to take a dump” is probably starting to muck things up.

  • David

    not sure why this isn’t implemented in the US, on a larger scale…

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