UNICEF and WHO released a report on how the world has done on water and sanitation, on the waterfront, there has been undeniable and remarkable progress. Even if it has not yet reached everyone, 91% of the world has adequate drinking water, and the numbers are growing rapidly.
Sanitation is a different story. It is not an exaggeration to say that one of the biggest health threats children face – diarrhea – is precisely due to the fact that 2.4 billion people – 1 in 3 worldwide – do not have a good enough place to defecate. Some 946 million of those don’t have any toilet at all, and just use the nearest field, pond, river, or seashore. There is a solution to this chronic issue from Dr. Daniel Yeh and his team with the invention of NEWgenerator.
Dr. Daniel Yeh is an Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida, his research and teaching interests are related to global water and sanitation, water and wastewater treatment, waste-to-energy biotechnologies, urban water infrastructure, green buildings, and climate change.
A major current focus of his Membrane Biotechnology Lab is to develop technologies to turn wastewater into a renewable resource, for both the US and developing countries. He is a recent recipient of a Grand Challenges Explorations grant (Round 7) $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new sanitation technologies for developing nations.
He and his team at the University of South Florida are this months preparing to ship to India a portable, self-contained sewage-treatment device called NEWgenerator; they hope will eventually help solve the sanitation needs of developing nations.
Image source: Floridatrend
The word ‘NEW’ of a device called NEWgenerator stands for Nutrients, Energy, and Water. It is powered only by solar energy that harvests nutrients, energy, and water from human waste using microorganisms and filters to turn sewage into products like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and water suitable for crop irrigation or other household uses, such as in cooling systems or for flushing toilets. It transforms almost all waste into clean usable water. The process also creates methane gas, which can be captured and used as a clean-energy source.
Image source: NEWgenerator
The heart of the NEWgenerator is what Yeh calls a “bioreactor,” a tank in which microorganisms break down waste, producing byproducts such as methane. The unit also uses multiple membranes that filter the wastewater and then adds chlorine as a safeguard against harmful organisms.
Another major focus area is to cultivate biofuel-producing microalgae from wastewater, while simultaneously decreasing the costs of wastewater treatment and sequestering carbon dioxide.
Video source: ABC Action News
In India, the device will be connected to “e-toilets,” which are self-cleaning bathrooms that can be monitored remotely by computer. The USF team did not develop the e-toilets, which are themselves something new in the waste industry.
While self-contained wastewater systems have been used on cruise ships and in “green” buildings for years, what sets the NEWgenerator apart is both its carbon and physical footprint — both small.
The device, housed in a durable container used by defense contractors in shipping supplies to troops overseas, is just 40 square feet. That is an important consideration for a device that may need to fit in a crowded neighborhood with little available space.