PALM DESERT, Calif. — Charles Koch is known for a lot of things, from running the second largest privately-held company in the U.S. to donating massive amounts of money to Republican candidates.
But who knew that the 80-year-old executive wants to pioneer the experience in the bathroom?
Koch appeared today at the EY Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Desert discussing a wide range of topics, from energy policies to education to the joys of living with his Italian-American wife. He also largely avoided a question about fellow billionaire Donald Trump, who is shaking up the GOP.
But it was near the end of the interview — conducted by Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo — when the owner of pipelines, paper products and polymers shared some unexpected thoughts about technology.
Asked by Bartiromo about what innovations he’s most excited about, Koch noted how Georgia-Pacific — a Koch-owned company which makes the Quilted Northern and Angel Soft toilet paper — is using sensors to create the “bathroom of the future.”
“You don’t need to have someone there to check whether the towels and the soap runs out. All of this will be fed back automatically through software, and the temperature controls and the lighting will be programmed to adjust whether it is being used or not,” said Koch. “When it is not being used, it will cut way back on the energy, so it will make the whole bathroom that much more efficient in every way.”
Koch — who said his companies embrace a culture of experimentation — then went on to say that the sensor technologies also are being deployed within hospitals to make sure that healthcare workers more routinely wash their hands.
“The biggest source of infection in hospitals is that the healthcare workers in many cases do not wash their hands when they go from patient to patient, so we have a system that can either set off an alarm back at the nurse’s station or indicate to the healthcare provider that they have not washed their hands. Now, we are getting a little resistance on that.”
Koch said sensors are also being deployed in some of his company’s chemical factories where dangerous substances are handled, with those sensors being able to detect possible leaks.
“This will detect a leak before it happens and automatically shut the unit down,” he said.
Koch also expressed an interest in biotechnology, noting how they want to make chemicals out of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide using bugs that are “trained to eat this stuff” and then “spit out your favorite chemical.”
Koch is also investing heavily in biofuels, owning and operating several biofuel plants.
“Right now, in an ethanol plant, only a third of the product, the ethanol, is worth more than the corn that feeds it, whereas in an oil refinery, 95 percent of the product is worth more than the crude oil that feeds it. That’s what makes it so inefficient, so we are developing technology to have like two thirds of the products … be worth more” than feeds it.