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Gates Foundation Awards Grants to Develop Urine Powered Fuel Cells, Waterless Toilets and Solar Steam Sterilizers

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Phase II winners as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative focused on water, sanitation and hygiene, including one grant to do further research on microbial fuel cells which could power cellphones with urine.

"Today, 2.5 billion people practice open defecation or lack adequate toilet facilities  so we are always looking for new ways to ensure that less human waste winds up in the environment, untreated," said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Innovations don't need to be complicated or expensive in order to be impactful which is why we are so excited about the range of approaches these projects represent."

GCE grants fund innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems. Phase II grants are awarded to Phase I winners whose projects have shown progress and are particularly promising. Phase II projects also show a strong alignment to the foundation's strategic priorities and maintain the innovation and excitement of the great idea that was funded during the first phase.  We also look for projects which have demonstrated the development of partnerships and collaboration that would help move projects toward implementation.

New Phase II grants were awarded to five organizations working to improve water and sanitation conditions in the developing world:

  • University of the West of England, Bristol in the U.K. to develop microbial fuel cells that can be powered by urine. The electricity generated can be used to power sanitation of the waste, and even to charge a cell phone.
  • Beijing Sunnybreeze Technology Inc. in China to develop a waterless toilet including an inexpensive mini waste processor.
  • North Carolina State University in the U.S. to improve and develop a low-cost, portable auger-based technology that can reliably and hygienically empty a wide variety of pit latrines and septic tanks which contain waste with a range of moisture contents.
  • Rice University in the U.S. to extend the capabilities of a solar steam sterilizer into a self-contained human waste-to-fuel converter for the manufacturing of clean, safe biofuel to satisfy demands for energy sources and agricultural fertilizer in the developing world.
  • National University of Mexico in Mexico to develop a digital tool for water survey facilities around the world, so that faster and more reliable water quality analysis is available for efforts to reduce enteric diseases worldwide.
  • The University of Delaware in the U.S. to develop and implement breathable membranes that could not only protect groundwater from contaminants but also accelerate the drying and disinfection of human waste.

Other Phase II grants which have recently been awarded through the Grand Challenges Explorations Initiative include those to:

  • Loowatt Ltd. In the U.K. to develop a commodity-generating waterless toilet system, offering a sustainable, affordable solution for urban sanitation globally and
  • Fundación In Terris in Ecuador to produce a low-cost, eco-friendly waterless toilet system to dramatically increase the affordability of water-free and energy-free household toilets for rural low-income families in Latin America and other regions, while promoting water conservation and recovering nutrients.

In partnership with Grand Challenges Canada, we have also recently supported:

  • The International Water Management Institute in Ghana who will develop and test fortified fertilizer pellets from treated human excreta for market.
  • Biofilcom Limited in Ghana to further develop an innovative system for on-site processing of human wastethat is safer and more affordable.
  • ZanaAfrica Group in Kenya to develop safe, affordable sanitary pads from renewable resources so more women in the developing world have access to these essential products.

Further details on grant awardees can be found at here.

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