Author Topic: Reinventing the toilet  (Read 459 times)


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Reinventing the toilet
« on: October 21, 2012, 11:42:49 PM »
Reinventing the toilet

Wannapa Khaopa
The Nation October 21, 2012 1:00 am

"A new generation of toilets" is being shaped now in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia for safe and sustainable sanitation, along with similar efforts in many other countries in the world.

"Safe sanitation means not only nice-looking toilets, but also it should be able to reduce contaminants or pollutants after flushing the toilets," said Assoc Prof Thammarat Koottatep, a researcher for environmental engineering and management at the Asian Institute of Technology's School of Environment, Resources and Development.

He is head of the research team responsible for creating a new generation of toilets in the three countries. It is part of the "Reinventing the Toilet" campaign initiated and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which is co-chaired by the head of Microsoft and his wife, to try to invent better toilets. BMGF has provided a Bt150-million (US$5 million) research grant to the team.

Thammarat said the research project "Sustainable Decentralised Wastewater Management in Developing Countries" would run until 2017, and his team would seek technologies to reduce contaminants or pollutants left after flushing. The team would not only find solutions for waste treatment but also target reuse of waste.

"We will see what to do next with waste, excreta and urine management. It could be converted to valuable products, such as biogas, fertiliser, electricity or other energy," he said.

Without safe sanitation in human waste management, people would still suffer from diseases, he added.

Of the 20 million cubic metres of domestic wastewater produced per day in Thailand, only 1.6 million cubic metres are collected in sewer networks and sent to treatment plants, many of which do not function. The figures for faecal sludge are equally alarming: in Thailand, 60,000 tonnes of faecal sludge are collected per day, but only 4,500 tonnes per day or less than 10 per cent are treated correctly.

"Not only industries pollute water and environment, but also you and me from our toilets," Thammarat said.

So, this project aims to double the amount of correctly treated faecal sludge with innovative business models. The overarching aim of this research is to reinvent decentralised systems and technologies for treatment and safe disposal of human excreta and wastewater from dwellings and businesses close to their sources. The ultimate goal of the project is to catalyse the commercialisation of novel, superior decentralised wastewater treatment systems aimed at radically improving sanitation for the poor, particularly in urban areas, according to Thammarat.

He said the project would use a market-driven approach that focused on the needs of potential customers, and users would frame technology development and innovation so as to generate bona fide marketplace demand. Products derived from the project would include treatment technologies that are applicable in developing countries and are based on sound scientific, technical and market evidence.

"We want to develop technologies that people would like to use," Thammarat added.

Doulaye Kone, a senior programme officer for water, sanitation and hygiene with the BMGF, said: "When it comes to animal waste, we understand that we can generate biogas from animal waste. So, why can't we apply the same thing to human waste."

"Industries have a wide range of technology innovations to harness energy from organic materials. Our food intake - it's energy. Then our body will process that energy and it will be released. We want high-tech solutions affordable for the majority of people - the 2.5 billion people who don't have access to [reliable sanitary] toilets," he said.

Kone said that in 2011, BMGF launched the programme to reinvent the toilet. It sought forward-looking partners through its own network. AIT is one of the leading research and development organisations with many years of experience in toilet and sanitation issues in Southeast Asia.

"We had the first sanitary engineering programme in Southeast Asia. With an opportunity given by the foundation [BMGF], we hope that we can build a new generation of toilets that would not pollute the environment, including canals in Bangkok," Thammarat said.

The team comprising researchers from AIT, Thammasat, Ramkhamhaeng, the University of Science Ho Chi Minh City and Rajamangala University of Technology in Surin will analyse the market in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia respectively.

During the five years of the project, phase 1 will create a platform for innovation, phase 2 will lead to designing and developing lead options for commercialisation and phase 3 will focus on catalysing commercialisation of lead options.

Kone said the foundation was looking for support from research organisations on technology development, industries as they have the capability to bring innovations to the market, and governments as they can issue proper policies. The project's advisory board includes the Federation of Industry, the Thai Chamber of Commerce and local administrations.