On Campus

Ontario engineers flush with cash from Gates Foundation

Third place in "reinvent the toilet" contest

A team of University of Toronto engineers are flush with cash as they continue working to build a better toilet.

The team — lead by Prof. Yu-Ling Cheng — has received a $2.2-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue designing a waterless, hygienic toilet for the developing world.

The 15-month grant comes after the team — which also includes researchers from Western University in London, Ont., and the University of Queensland — placed third in the Foundation’s “Reinventing the Toilet Challenge.”

The challenge is to build a self-contained toilet that works without running water, sewer system or electricity and costs no more than five cents a day, per user.

Cheng’s team is using a sand filter and UV disinfection to process liquid waste and a smoulder chamber — similar to a charcoal barbecue — to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried in a roller-belt assembly.

The next stage involves work to simplify the process, reduce the mechanical complexity and minimize odour.

“We have proven that our concept works technically,” said Cheng. “Now we are going to get busy to make sure it will work for the users — some of the 2.6 billion people in the world who do not have access to basic sanitation.”

Western toilets are not suitable for people in the developing world since they need running water and extensive sewer and processing systems, she said.

Cheng and her team hope to have an operational prototype by December 2013.

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