Water to wine? Yawn. The Janicki Omniprocessor turns human waste in sewer sludge into drinking water and electricity, in about five minutes. Here's how it works.
"The water tasted as good as any I've had out of a bottle," writes Bill Gates, who visited the facility in November to try the water for himself (the site is part of the Gates Foundation's effort to improve sanitation in poor countries). "And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It's that safe." He continues:
Why would anyone want to turn waste into drinking water and electricity?
Because a shocking number of people, at least 2 billion, use latrines that aren't properly drained. Others simply defecate out in the open. The waste contaminates drinking water for millions of people, with horrific consequences: Diseases caused by poor sanitation kill some 700,000 children every year, and they prevent many more from fully developing mentally and physically.
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…
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 liters of potable water a day and a net 250 kw of electricity.
If we get it right, it will be a good example of how philanthropy can provide seed money that draws bright people to work on big problems, eventually creating a self-supporting industry… Our goal is to make the processors cheap enough that entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries will want to invest in them and then start profitable waste-treatment businesses.
We still have a lot to learn before we get to that point. The next step is the pilot project; later this year, Janicki will set up an Omniprocessor in Dakar, Senegal, where they'll study everything from how you connect with the local community (the team is already working with leaders there) to how you pick the most convenient location. They will also test one of the coolest things I saw on my tour: a system of sensors and webcams that will let Janicki's engineers control the processor remotely and communicate with the team in Dakar so they can diagnose any problems that come up.
Cool shit, man. More here.