Chinese scientists asked to improve toilet

Updated: 2013-08-23 01:31

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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Bill Gates is asking Chinese researchers to explore "poop power" in a project worth $5 million, according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation announced on Thursday in Beijing it will allocate grants to select applicants to re-engineer the common toilet to be more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

Each grantee would receive between $100,000 to $500,000 to realize their toilet designs, said Professor Li Zifu, with the University of Science & Technology Beijing, which has been entrusted to implement the project.

Doulaye Kone, senior program officer of water, sanitation and hygiene with the foundation, said, "China is the first country we have launched such an independent grant, and we hope this will improve access among Chinese inventors to the project."

Previously, the foundation launched a global campaign in July 2011 to prompt innovation of a more sustainable toilet. The California Institute of Technology in the United States received a $100,000 first prize for a solar-powered design, which could transform waste into hydrogen gas and electricity.

Few applications from China were received in 2011 probably due to language barriers, according to Kone, who added that cultural backgrounds and needs should be considered for practical designs.

"The China project is expected to produce designs which better meet demands in China and other developing countries across the world," he said.

Kone also revealed that India might be the next country to see a similar project.

According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 billion people worldwide don’t have access to toilets, resulting in 1.5 million deaths among children under the age of 5 each year due to sanitation problems.

Meanwhile, in industrial countries, toilets use 20 to 40 percent of total water consumption.

In China, toilet innovation has two major goals — sustainability and affordability, said Li.

Zero water and electricity consumption, a daily cost below 5 cents per person, no smell, and comfort are also favored, Kone added.

"We should look at human waste as a source of fertilizer or minerals and recycle it," Li explained.

Besides, designs are expected to be functional and reasonably priced, even without a local sewage system, Li said.