Loughborough University has won a prestigious prize of $60,000 in an international competition organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a safe, clean and affordable toilet that does not need connections to electricity or a sewer! The invention should be able to help around 2.5 billion in the developing world with lack of access to safe sanitation.

The prize was awarded to the Loughborough team for its prototype toilet which aims to convert human waste into carbonised material to provide heat, minerals for soil conditioning, and water for flushing and hand-washing.  It uses a process called Continuous Thermal Hydrocarbonisation which kills all pathogens to create safe to handle, valuable material and uses power from heat generated during processing. The toilet is designed to work in both single-family and multi-user contexts with daily running costs of just a few pence per person.

Three prototype technologies were recognised for most closely matching the criteria for the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.  Loughborough was awarded second prize, with the California Institute of Technology and the University of Toronto respectively receiving first and third prizes.

The Loughborough team is currently showcasing its prototype at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair at the Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. This event features the work of nearly 40 Foundation grant holders and other partners from its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program, in order to inspire collaboration around the shared mission of reinventing the toilet.

“Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better,” said Foundation Co-chair Bill Gates. “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.”

“It’s unconscionable that 2.5 billion people suffer today because they don’t have access to a toilet,” said Chris Elias, president of the Foundation’s Global Development Program. “At the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, leading thinkers and inventors are coming to Seattle to show the progress they’ve made in developing a reinvented toilet. We need these types of innovations to not only help manage the problem of dealing with human waste, but to help advance progress across a broader range of global challenges.”

Professor M. Sohail, Loughborough’s project lead, said, “It was the opportunity of a lifetime to present our research to Mr Gates and we are extremely honoured to receive this prestigious award.”   

This is incredible news for the department and comes at an incredible time, what with A-level results being released, the bounty of new students arriving at the technology department and Loughborough maintaining its top ten place in general, materials, mechanical, civil and chemical engineering! 

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