The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” in 2011 to create innovative solutions for the more than 4.5 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation options. The challenge called for solutions that could operate "off the grid" without connections to water, sewer, or electricity, and that could transform liquid and solid waste into valuable resources such as disinfected water and energy. The systems would also needed to be affordable, operating on less than $.05 per person per day, and designed so that people would actually want to use them.
A team of engineers and researchers under the direction of Dr. Brian Stoner accepted the challenge. After several years of user-centered design and engineering, including valuable feedback from thousands of households to better understand cultural norms and preferences, the first prototype sanitation system was delivered to Ahmedabad, India, in 2016. Data from this first use case informed development of the next generation system - the Empower Sanitation Platform. The sanitation platform is currently undergoing further field testing in a women's dormitory in Coimbatore, India, and in a community in Durban, South Africa. WaSH-AID’s technology combines electrochemical disinfection for liquid waste processing and biomass energy conversion to process solid waste. The liquid waste is turned into non-potable water that can be reused to flush the system or for crop irrigation, and the solid waste is converted into energy. The system will debut in two cities, Narsapur and Warangal, India, in 2019.
Another technology, the Reclaimer - a compact, automated technology designed to rapidly treat blackwater and greywater - evolved out of WaSH-AID's research and engineering to develop off-grid sanitation solutions. The Reclaimer is currently undergoing field testing in India.
Potential commercial applications of both the Empower Sanitation Platform and the Reclaimer are immense: from natural disaster recovery and caring for displaced persons to military bases and large-scale civic events, the systems can scale for use in shared public spaces around the world. The technology aims to improve human health and well-being; increase gender equality; and conserve, recycle, and generate critical resources.