Bill Gates wants to reinvent the toilet.
The flush toilet we know and love was invented in 1775, and while it is pretty good at whisking away our waste, it also uses a lot of water, and relies on a sewage infrastructure that is expensive to build, and not neccessarily practical for the developing world.
And developing countries are in need of a system that is practical and hygenic. About two-thirds of the people on Earth use latrines or defecate right out in the open, according to a report from the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
That's not just gross, it's also deadly. The Gates Foundation says 1.5 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of sanitation problems.
Gates is hoping to stop to these deaths by coming up with a safer, cheaper and more energy-efficient toilet.
Last year, the Gates Foundation gave grants to eight universities around the world, asking them to start inventing the toilet of tomorrow: a toilet that uses little or no water, is cheap and easy to install, and that is safe and hygenic.
It would be nice if it could also tranform the waste into energy, clean water or fertilizer.
This week, Gates awarded a $100,000 prize to a team from Caltech that has tried to make such a toilet a reality. The group, led by Michael Hoffman, created a self-contained toilet that reuses water, and turns urine and feces into hydrogen gas that can provide a backup energy source, Reuters reports.
The toilet would probably cost $1,000 to install and isn't ready to be mass-produced, but it's a step in the right direction.
"Imagine what's possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead," Reuters quoted Gates as saying. "Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations."
I'll flush to that!
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