From Poop to Potable with Bill Gates

HEALTH

“I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.” —Bill Gates

Bill Gates has drunk a glass of water made from human feces to showcase technology he said could provide clean water in the developing world.

Read our article to learn how Orange County, California, already goes “From Toilet to Tap.”

Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas

  • Watch the great 2-minute video above. What are the inputs for the OmniProcessor—what does it take to set up this process in a community?
    • the OmniProcessor itself, a $1.5 million, 187 square meter (2,013 square foot) machine developed and sold by Janicki Bioenergy. Purchasing and installing the OmniProcessor may take financial support from an insightful local entrepreneur, a loan from a bank or other financial institution, or a grant (from the government, a corporation, or nonprofit organization).
    • brilliant engineers. Peter Janicki (Janicki Bioenergy) and Doulaye Kone (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) developed the OmniProcessor, but day-to-day know-how to maintain the machine will be necessary.
    • connection to some sort of electrical infrastructure.
    • sewage sludge (solid waste). About 12.3 cubic meters (434 cubic feet) of sewer sludge can be processed every day. The sludge can contain up to 84% moisture.

 

  • What are the outputs of the OmniProcessor—what three products does it produce?
    • clean drinking water. About 10,800 liters (2,853 gallons) of water can be produced every day. The drinking water meets both United States FDA and World Health Organization standards. (If it’s good enough for Bill Gates, it’s good enough for you.)
    • electricity. Production of electricity was actually the original intent of the OmniProcessor, which can produce 150 kilowatts of power.
    • pathogen-free ash. According to Janicki Bioenergy, emissions “meet or exceed all applicable United States EPA requirements.”

 

  • Read through “From Toilet to Tap,” our excellent article on the Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). (Fun fact: This was the first piece of content ever published on the Nat Geo Education website!) How is the sewage treated by GWRS different from the sewage treated by the OmniProcessor?
    • Input: The GWRS input is sewer water that has already been treated by the nearby Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD). “When it comes in [to the OCSD], it’s dirty,” says the OCSD public affairs manager. “It’s smelly. It’s full of viruses and junk. As it comes out of our plant, it looks clean, but it’s not clean enough to swim and bathe in.” The OmniProcessor input is sewer sludge—much more toxic and containing solid waste material.
    • Time: The GWRS process takes about an hour-and-a-half to produce safe drinking water. The OmniProcessor takes only five minutes (read more in this terrific article from Wired).

 

 

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

BBC: Bill Gates drinks water distilled from human faeces

GatesNotes: FROM POOP TO POTABLE: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water

Janicki Bioenergy: OmniProcessor S100 (all data in this blog post was taken from this version of the machine, which will be installed in Dakar, Senegal, this spring)

Nat Geo: From Toilet to Tap: System transforms sewer water into drinking water

The Institution of Engineering and Technology: A Sip of Sewage

3 responses to “From Poop to Potable with Bill Gates

  1. Pingback: What Happens to Astronaut Poop? Look to the Skies! | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: 5 Things to Know About California’s Water Crisis | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  3. To Bill Gates,

    Thank you, Bill, for bringing our attention to what the future holds. Yes, it is possible to clean toilet water to a drinkable state.
    New Water Innovations is a small, woman-owned company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We focus on Water Treatment that filter and conserve water. One of the technologies is a Busse Waste Water System that will clean sewage in order to deliver safe drinking water throughout our drought-stricken state. However, we’ve found that the general public is not quite ready to go there; for now we are asking people to use the Busse system that would replace a septic system for flushing toilets and watering their gardens.
    We also can save a significant amount of blow-down water (95%) using Hydroflow cooling towers along with side-stream filtration. This not only saves water, it successfully addresses issues with bacteria and algae.

    Best Regards,
    Audrey Jenkins

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