The Loh Down On Science

Potty Humor

You had me at … fake feces?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying that pretend poo was part of the 2012 "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge"--a multimillion dollar contest held by the Gates Foundation.

See, worldwide, over two billion people don't have safe sanitation. So Gates offered eight universities funding to invent a custom commode--one that doesn't require plumbing or electricity.

The winner? Caltech. Their prototype potty uses a solar panel to power an electrochemical reactor. When the unit is flushed, the waste goes into a holding tank. There, bacteria break down solids, while liquid flows into the reactor. In the reactor, solar power releases hydrogen from the water for use in hydrogen-fuel cells. Solar energy also produces chlorine for disinfection from the chloride in table salt.

The chlorinated water can be reused for the next flush. The bacterially digested solids can be used as fertilizer.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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And the prize for the solar-powered toilet? A hundred-thousand dollars. Talk about a royal flush!


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