It sounds grosser than it is: Bill Gates recently drank water made from human excrement.
In a video posted on his blog, The Gates Notes, the Gates Foundation co-founder demonstrates the impressive OmniProcessor, a machine manufactured by Janicki Bioenergy in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, north of Seattle.
“I watched the piles of faeces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water,” Gates writes on his blog. “The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle. And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.”
(Peter Janicki of Janicki Industries told Wired’s Davey Alba that the water “meets or exceeds the standards of every one” of the various supermarket brands it has been tested against.)
The OmniProcessor — “a safe repository for human waste” — is part of the Gates Foundation’s effort to improve sanitation in areas without proper sewage systems. Up to 2 billion people worldwide are currently using latrines without proper drainage.
“Diseases caused by poor sanitation kill some 700,000 children every year, and they prevent many more from fully developing mentally and physically,” Gates writes. “If we can develop safe, affordable ways to get rid of human waste, we can prevent many of those deaths and help more children grow up healthy.”
The OmniProcessor uses a steam engine to burn sewage at a high enough temperature that there’s no bad smell — and it meets all the U.S. government’s emissions standards.
“Through the ingenious use of a steam engine, it produces more than enough energy to burn the next batch of waste. In other words, it powers itself, with electricity to spare. The next-generation processor, more advanced than the one I saw, will handle waste from 100,000 people, producing up to 86,000 litres of potable water a day and a net 250 kw of electricity,” Gates writes.
The next step: A pilot project in Dakar, Senegal, later this year.
Read Gates’ entire post here.