Public healthEngineers awarded $2.2 million grant for research on new toilet design

Published 29 November 2012

A University of Toronto engineering team has received a major grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue work on designing for a waterless, hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world

A University of Toronto engineering team has received a major grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue work on designing for a waterless, hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world.

The Gates Foundation awarded the grant, worth $2.2 million for fifteen months, to U of T Engineering Professor Yu-Ling Cheng, director of the Center for Global Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and her team. Earlier this year, Cheng’s team, which also includes researchers from Western University and the University of Queensland, placed third in the Foundation’s Reinventing the Toilet Challenge.

A University of Toronto release reports that the U of T Engineering solution uses a sand filter and UV disinfection 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. Going forward, the team will work further to simplify the process, reduce mechanical complexity and minimize odor.

“I am very proud of our entire team and the work we have done up to now,” Cheng said. “We have proven that our concept works technically, 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, which rely on running water, an extensive sewer network and an expensive processing system, are not suitable for the needs of people in the developing world — many of whom live in places without the infrastructure we take for granted, she said.

Working with local partners in Bangladesh, Cheng and her team hope to have an operational prototype by December of 2013, one that uses readily available materials and equipment that can be maintained locally, she said.

“We are all proud of the accomplishments of Professor Yu-Ling Cheng and her team, and grateful to the Gates Foundation for the continued support,” said Professor Cristina Amon, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “The toilet research project and the Center for Global Engineering exemplify U of T Engineering’s commitment to doing innovative research that matters and which has global impact.”

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