This post first appeared on VICE UK
Billion-dollar-man-with-a-six-dollar-haircut Bill Gates is funding a machine that will take your raw and uncut turds and, through the process of what is essentially alchemy, turn human crap into not just clean drinking water but also electricity. It's hard to tell if Gates has just gone full-on "evil billionaire" and is using his vast fortune to make us all drink turd water, but until he starts saying stuff like, "I'll pay you $150,000 to let me kill your dog," let's assume his heart is in the right place.
The business magnate and Microsoft founder took to his blog yesterday to report the news that he was funding Washington-based firm Janicki Industries as they try to bring the magical turd-converter, dubbed "the Omniprocessor," to some of the poorest parts of the world. So far, so not-an-evil-billionaire. Here he is drinking some turd water to prove how OK it is:
The Omniprocessor takes assorted waste slurry and runs it through a heated pipe that boils those shits right up, extracting the water as a vapor and sending the leftover turds into an incinerator bit to be turned into ash. The hot steam runs through a steam engine, creating clean electricity to power the Omniprocessor as well as an excess for, like, a MacBook or whatever. Then the water is cleaned and cooled and poured into a glass for Bill Gates to drink.
As well as creating three sellable products for whoever owns and operates the machine (excess electricity can be sold back to the grid, while the ash can be packaged as fertilizer), the Omniprocessor solves one of the biggest problems in the developing world: access to sanitation.
The UN estimates that 2.5 billion people still have no access to improved sanitation, with over 1 billion still defecating in the open air. That can lead to major health issues—from diarrhea to polio, cholera, and typhoid—when human waste gets into the water supply. It's estimated that 700,000 children die each year from illnesses related to poor sanitation. The Omniprocessor can take a huge step towards tackling the problem when the first machine is set up in Dakar, Senegal later this year.
People are doing some pretty creative things with turds at the moment. In November, the Bath Bus Company announced a new Bristol–Bath shuttle bus that would be exclusively powered by a biomethane gas distilled from human waste, which as a result emits 80 percent of the CO2 of a diesel-powered equivalent. With reliance on fossil fuels generally seen as "the inevitable cause of our downfall," it seems the West can benefit from boiling poop into a horribly useful gas, too.
Yeah, turds are more powerful than you think. Turds can save lives and save the environment, too. Think about that next time you work out six pints of Guinness and a vindaloo: You are shitting hope.
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