U of T engineers win third place in Gates Foundation toilet challenge

Thursday, September 13, 2012 9:48:00 AM


From left to right, Professors Yu-Ling Cheng and Mark Kortschot with Nathan Myhrvold, Prince of Orange and Bill Gates (photo Y. Cheng)
From left to right, Professors Yu-Ling Cheng and Mark Kortschot with Nathan Myhrvold, Prince of Orange and Bill Gates (photo Y. Cheng)

A University of Toronto team led by Engineering Professor Yu-Ling Cheng, Director of the Centre for Global Engineering, won third place and $40,000 USD for their design of a toilet for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, which sought to develop a waterless, hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world that doesn’t have to be connected to a sewer.

U of T was one of eight universities from around the world to receive the initial phase one funding of almost $400,000 each. That investment allowed the teams to test their conceptual design. Those designs were showcased in mid-August 2012 at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair held at the Gates Foundation’s Seattle headquarters.

The U of T solution is novel in its simplicity. It uses a sand filter and UV-ray disinfecting chamber to process liquid waste and a smolder chamber, similar to a charcoal barbeque, to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried in a roller/belt assembly. The result is a toilet that is sustainable, easy to use and that processes waste while protecting the community from contamination. Click here to view a video explaining the design.

Traditional toilets, which rely on running water, an extensive sewer network and an expensive processing system, are currently failing to the meet the needs of 2.5-billion people around the world according to the Gates Foundation. An estimated 1.5-million children die each year due to diarrhea caused by poor sanitation.

At a ceremony held at the Fair on August 15, 2012, Bill Gates announced the U of T team had won third place. First place ($100,000) went to the California Institute of Technology for a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity.  Loughborough University in the UK won second prize ($60,000) for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. Special recognition and $40,000 went to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and the Viennese design company EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user interface.

In addition to Professor Cheng, the U of T team included Engineering Professors Mark Kortschot, Elizabeth Edwards, Yuri Lawryshyn and Levente Diosady, and research associates/graduate students Zachary Fishman, Tiffany Jung and Samuel Melamed. Their efforts were supported by partners at the University of Edinburgh, Western University, OCAD University and technical experts in Bangladesh.

This is an edited excerpt of an article from www.news.utoronto.ca.

Read the Gates Foundation’s Press Release here.

More information on the Centre for Global Engineering: http://www.engineering.utoronto.ca/Research_Innovation/Research_Institutes_Centres/CGEN.htm