As we can all agree, the toilet is mankind’s greatest achievement. But even perfection can be improved upon. Maybe it is time to reinvent the toilet.
A team comprised of researchers from Duke University and the University of Missouri are hard at work on a project that could forever change toilets as we now know them. Based around a technology called “supercritical water oxygenation,” the team is building a toilet that can convert human waste into heat…and clean water.
Here’s how it works. After receiving a “deposit” of “fresh waste material,” the toilet heats a small amount of water to an extremely high temperature (over 700°F.). Organic substances dissolve, and what’s left of the waste is heat, carbon dioxide, and water. It’s not quite potable (and we’re not sure we’d drink it even if it was), but that water—which was otherwise flushed away forever—can be used for everything from showering to washing dishes.
The team’s ultimate goal is to build a self-sustaining system (meaning it would use its own heat to heat the next batch of supercritical water) that can fit in a 20-foot storage container at a water treatment facility and filter the combined waste of around 1,200 people. While their system might not be practical for a new bathroom at your house, it could be a game-changer for the billions of people on the planet who don’t have access to proper sanitation.
The project is the latest in the Reinvent the Toilet campaign, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the past few years, other researchers have won grants from the foundation for things like a solar-powered toilet, and one that creates charcoal out of human waste.