One of the great things that I love about,
what I do is we get to
take on some of the biggest challenges
in global health and global development.
And one of those challenges is water sanitation and hygiene.
Everybody needs clean water and, you know,
to quote the book, everybody poops.
And dealing with this in a clean and sanitary way
is really important for quality of life.
And it’s also really important for health,
and getting rid of certain diseases.
One of the biggest challenges over the last couple years,
a really fun technological challenge
has been the Reinvent the Toilet Project.
The basic theme of this was looking at
are there new solutions,
twenty-first century solutions to sanitation,
echoing what we saw in telephone and communication systems,
where a lot of countries completely skipped over,
building a big network of landlines and traditional phones
and went straight to cell phones.
The question was,
could we come up with the equivalent technology
that would jump over building out sewer networks,
and giant expensive water treatment plants,
and jump immediately to non-network sanitation?
And it turns out that
new approaches are possible,
using mechanical engineering and chemical engineering approaches.
There is actually a lot of free energy in the waste
that can be used to process itself,
if the machine to do it is designed correctly.
And you can actually do this is a fairly cost effective way.
So the Reinvent the Toilet challenge was kicked off
about five years ago,
in order to get universities,
different companies, design firms and so on
to actually think about this,
and put twenty-first century innovation
applied to the problem of human sanitation.
And it’s been remarkably cool and successful so far
to see the different approaches that have come up.
There was one team of a lot of Hertz Fellows
that started working on figuring out new ways to do…
use the pyrolysis and other approaches
for using electrolysis for drying and combusting.
One group is running a steam engine off
of human waste as an input stream.
And where a community would used to have
ten tons of waste a day.
Now all of a sudden,
it runs a steam engine that generates 150 kilowatts of electricity,
and puts out 10,000 to 20,000 liters a day of potable water.
So this is just really exciting to see what innovation can do,
what new technologies can do,
and actually taking on some of these really big challenges and saying,
“What would be a really definitive technological solution to this
that actually solves the problem in a way that
we would never have imagined trying 25 or 30 years ago?”