Gates Foundation funds device that converts waste into water


By Heather Mendiola

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recently funded Janicki Bioenergy, an engineering firm based north of Seattle, to continue developing a prototype machine that transforms human waste into electricity and drinking water. The device is known as the “Omniprocessor.”

This machine takes human waste, boils it and separates it into water vapor and dry waste. The dry waste is burned at 1,000 degrees Celsius, driving a steam-powered generator that produces enough electricity to power the Omniprocessor with excess energy that can be utilized by the local community.

The water vapor from the waste is filtered to produce clean drinking water, which Bill Gates stated in his blog “tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle.” He went on to say that since he has studied the engineering behind it, he “would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.”

The Omniprocessor meets all U.S. government emission standards. Additionally, since the machine runs at such a high temperature when incinerating the dry waste, there is no foul smell produced.

The Gates Foundation’s hope in funding the development of this project is that in a few years, Omniprocessors will be set up in communities all over the world to help the 2 billion people, according to Bill Gates, who don’t have access to adequate sanitation or clean drinking water. Gates stated in his blog that he does not want the Omniporcessor to join the long list of “well-intentioned inventions that never deliver on their promise.”

Later this year, an Omniprocessor will be set up in Dakar, Senegal, for a pilot project where Janicki engineers will study everything about the process of implementation from connecting with the community to deciding the best location for the Omniprocessor. Additionally, the Omniprocessor will be equipped with sensors and webcams that will allow the engineers to communicate with the team they set up in Dakar and control the processor remotely so they are able to diagnose any problem that arises.

Janicki Bioenergy is working on the next-generation processor that can handle waste from 100,000 people and can produce 86,000 liters of safe drinking water a day, producing a net 250 kw of electricity.

So far, there is no indication as to the price of this two double-decker-bus-sized machine, since Gates said that it might be a few years before it is completely ready. However, Gates hopes that local governments and entrepreneurs will be interested in investing in this solution to the widespread problem of poor sanitation.


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