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Small steps

Machine Turns Human Waste Into Drinkable Water in 5 Minutes


A low-cost sewage treatment machine funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can turn human waste into drinkable water in five minutes.

The machine, the OmniProcessor, was built by Janicki Industries, which has previously worked for Lockheed, NASA and General Electric constructing machine parts for various marine and aerospace operations. In the video below, the founder and CEO of Janicki Industries, Peter Janicki, explains how the OmniProcessor works (and fills a glass for Bill Gates, who toured the OmniProcessor in November).

“The first thing I did was work out the thermodynamics,” Janicki told Wired. “It’s a little bit like an accountant looking through things and saying: ‘Do we have enough money to make this thing work? What does the balance sheet look like?’ I did the same thing, looking at the energy, and was pleasantly surprised early on that it looked like this could work. And once I figured that out, it was just a matter of dealing with the details.”

Through its innovative use of steam and filtration, the machine not only provides potable water but also electricity. According to the specifications on the Janicki Industries website, the OmniProcessor’s S100 model can process up to 12.3 cubic meters of sewer sludge per day and produce up to 10,800 liters of clean drinking water per day. It can also generate up to 150 kilowatts of power, though doing so reduces its maximum water output. The water produced by the OmniProcessor meets both U.S. FDA and World Health Organization standards.

The S100 model will be heading to Dakar, Senegal in mid-February to test its viability in the field. A souped up S200 model is slated for spring 2016 and will be able to process 92.3 cubic meters of sludge per day and generate up to 300 kW of electricity.

If the prototype is successful in Dakar, the Gates Foundation hopes to deliver OmniProcessors throughout the developing world. According to Wired, up to 40 percent of the global population is currently using facilities that do not safely dispose of human waste, and roughly 1.5 million children die each year from contaminated food and water.

The OmniProcessor is more energy efficient than current waste treatment plants and creates no harmful byproducts. Waste goes in and is transformed into energy, fresh water and a non-toxic ash that can be used as fertilizer.

“If you can get thousands of these things out there, then you’ve ensured the people really will grow up in a healthy way,” said Gates. “They’ll live much higher quality lives. You will save a lot of lives. And you’ll have local entrepreneurs who are maintaining these things.”

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