As the founder of the philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has made it his mission to create new innovations that will raise the standard of living in developing nations around the world. His latest project, though, might surprise you: it’s a futuristic toilet that doesn’t require either water or highly developed sewage infrastructure, both of which are in short supply in many developing nations.
Unlike conventional toilets, which use water to flush human waste through sewage pipes to a final landfill destination, this futuristic toilet separates solid and liquid waste at the source, and then uses chemical processing to transform those waste products into something useful, such as fertilizer. Later iterations of the toilet, says Gates, could be even more powerful. Instead of creating fertilizer, for example, they might be able to create clean-burning fuel or even fresh water.
As Gates notes, this toilet is more than just a clever gadget – it is a potential solution to one of the world’s most pressing problems: a lack of clean, sanitary toilets. Without sanitary toilets, disease, sickness and even death are possible. According to a brief video released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, poor sanitation around the world leads to $200 billion in extra healthcare costs and lost income due to sickness.
So just how practical is this futuristic toilet? Right now, Gates is looking for potential buyers, and thinks he might have one in China. At a recent Chinese trade show, he demonstrated the futuristic toilet, touting it as a potential solution to China’s own sanitation problems. China, for example, has already launched a “Toilet Revolution,” which aims to produce and install 64,000 public toilets around the country by 2020.
Right now, the production capacity for the Gates toilet is limited at best. Gates himself admits that just a hundred or so are potentially available for immediate installation, and that it will take a lot of marketing support and further R&D to make these toilets into a huge new market opportunity. By 2030, however, Gates projects that these no-water, no-sewage toilets will be part of a $6 billion global market opportunity.
In fact, says Gates, the future market potential is so massive that he compares it to the computing revolution that he helped to usher in during the 1970’s. At the time, mainframe computers dominated the computing landscape, and few experts thought that personal computers would ever reach broad public adoption. But now look at the computing world: the idea of one PC per person is very much a mainstream idea, even in the same parts of the world where nations lack sanitary toilets.
With that in mind, Gates refers to these futuristic toilets as “chemical processing at the household level,” much as the early PCs were “computer processing at the household level.” If they are successful, they will forever disrupt the world of conventional flush toilets, which are simply no longer viable for a world with billions of people and the emergence of new mega-cities with tens of millions of citizens. If China eventually adopts Gates’ invention, we might end up remembering Bill Gates not just as a computer genius, but also as one of the world’s truly great philanthropists and visionaries.
As the founder of the philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has made it his mission to create new innovations that will raise the standard of living in developing nations around...