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Solar…toilet?! Zap waste into fuel

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 8:04am
Daniele DeAngelis Walker, Editorial Intern

Human excrement is probably one of the most embarrassing and least glamorous topics out there. But the Sol-Char Toilet is starting a conversation that’s hard to miss. That’s right, it’s a solar-powered toilet.

Let’s back up. The concept of solar energy isn’t a new one. Just the opposite, in fact— it’s been everywhere in the engineering world for years. Engineers are always on the lookout for new and more efficient applications, though. Cue the Sol-Char Toilet. It was a product of the Reinvent the Toilet initiative, launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal was to "develop waterless, hygienic toilets that do not require a sewer connection or electricity and cost less than five cents per user per day." Many engineers tried to rise to this challenge, and team led by University of Colorado professor Karl Linden eventually succeeded.

This toilet turns poo into power, and the most astounding part is that it’s 100% sanitary. The Sol-Char uses biochar technology. Waste is collected, heated to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and then processed into pellets that resemble charcoal. After that, the pellets can be whisked away and used as fuel or fertilizer.

See: Photos of the Day: A solar-powered toilet

In addition to zapping waste, the toilet zaps the widest complaint surrounding solar technology: It doesn’t work unless the sun is shining. Linden’s prototype uses a series of mirrors and fiber-optic cables to direct sunlight and heat between customizable locations.

Not only does the Sol-Char Toilet have the power to revolutionize, well, power, but it could also save lives. Currently, poor sanitation surrounding human waste is responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million children per year. The prototype was just unveiled and launched in New Dehli on Saturday, and it’s getting rave reviews so far.

Personally, I think this holds tremendous promise. Still, the Sol-Char project is relatively new, and it may be full of…oh, you know. Leave your opinions below!

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