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20 July 2011 | PR 11/93

Loughborough experts to ‘reinvent the toilet’ in global project

A multi-disciplinary team at Loughborough University led by Professor M.Sohail has won a prestigious grant of approximately £250,000 in an international competition to “re-invent the toilet” organised by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The programme was launched at the AfricaSan conference in Rwanda this week as part of the Foundation’s new $40 million Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene strategy.

“To address the needs of the 2.6 billion people who don’t have access to safe sanitation, we not only must reinvent the toilet, we also must find safe, affordable and sustainable ways to capture, treat, and recycle human waste,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Most importantly, we must work closely with local communities to develop lasting sanitation solutions that will improve their lives.”

In the project’s first phase, Loughborough’s experts will work to validate certain key principles to design a toilet which is totally different from our existing one; the Loughborough re-invented toilet will recover energy and other valuable resources from human excreta, but will not dispose of any hazardous waste that could threaten human and environmental health.

Loughborough is the only British university to receive this award and is among eight prestigious institutions worldwide to receive a grant for the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, which calls upon experts to prototype, conceptualize and design innovative ways and means of disposing human waste in the developing world. 

Lack of adequate sanitation facilities affects around 40% of the world’s population, with 1.1 billion people worldwide defecating outdoors. Poor sanitation is the major cause of diarrheal disease - the second largest killer of children under five - which claims around 1.5 million lives each year, and is blamed for certain incidents of violence against women and school dropout rates for girls.

The Loughborough research team is led by the Water Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) in the School of Civil & Building Engineering, and includes colleagues from the Loughborough Design School, Department of Materials, Chemical Engineering and Civil & Building Engineering.

Loughborough’s proposed toilet will transform faeces into a highly energetic combustible through a process combining hydrothermal carbonisation followed by combustion. The process will be powered by heat generated during the combustion phase of faeces processing.

The likely results are converting human waste into useful material for energy generation or soil conditioning, including water for hand-washing and other ablutions.

The toilet must be able to work in both single-family and community environments and should cost just pennies a day per person to run.

“We are extremely delighted to have won this award after a very tough international competition involving colleagues from world-leading universities,” said Principle investigator Professor M Sohail. “It is extremely exciting and gratifying that we will be significantly contributing in changing toilets as we have known them for the last hundred years.

“The challenge will be to make them more user friendly and accessible, environment friendly, socially acceptable and financially affordable at a global scale.”

The Loughborough team will deliver the results of this work at meeting in August 2012 where research outcomes will be presented to the Foundation to forecast future developments.

−ENDS−

For all media enquiries contact:

Amanda Overend
Senior PR Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228697
E: A.J.Overend@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2010 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the UK’s Best Student Experience every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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