A Machine that turns Feces Into Drinking Water (Omni-processor by Janicki to process sludge) - now in Dakar, Senegal

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Re: Drinking Water From Feces - Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (sewage sludge, Janicki Omniprocessor)

[Start of Page 2 of the discussions]

Joe, it says that "it produces more than enough energy to burn the next batch of waste", implying that you use some of the calorific value of the waste you put in to power the machine; you only need some initial energy to start the process. This is similar to waste-to-energy plants where, once you have reached a suitable temperature, the additional waste fuels the process and releases its energy. No violation of thermodynamic principles :-)

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Re: Drinking Water From Feces - Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (sewage sludge, Janicki Omniprocessor)

And it all depends on how wet the incoming sludge is. The dryer it is to start with, the easier it would be to make the process having an energy surpluss. It's the initial dewatering and drying of sludge that is consuming a lot of energy.

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  • kevintayler
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Re: Drinking Water From Feces - Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (sewage sludge, Janicki Omniprocessor)

Dear Elisabeth and everyone

Thanks for the various replies to my post. My point was not necessarily that the Omni-processor technology has exactly the same objectives as the Namibian wastewater treatment facility but rather that they are both examples of high-tech approaches to solving what appears to me to be the wrong 'problem'.

The objective of the Omni-processor is to convert dried fecal sludge to drinking water - this is very clear from their literature. If Bill Gates believes that it can do it, and he clearly does, drinking a glass of water after it has been treated by the process may be a publicity stunt but it still expresses what the technology is intended to do

The claim that the technology can produce enough energy to run itself and provide a surplus may or may not be true - it seems unlikely to me - but any work on the system m must have been made on a system that is being carefully monitored and running under ideal institutional conditions.
I have been working with WSP on sludge treatment in Indonesia for the last couple of years and have seen a lot of sludge treatment plants during that time. One this is clear - the people charged with running and managing the plants are invariably low in the institutional hierarchy and have limited powers, skills and knowledge. This is one reason why few plants are running well. What chance is there of achieving effective operation of a sophisticated technology that requires that the sludge is heated to 1000 degrees centigrade. My guess would be that field performance will fail to match the theoretical performance, even if the latter is satisfactory. So, we have a technology that might or might not cover its running costs but probably won't, which is highly likely to fail prematurely and which produces a limited amount of drinking water. Against this, we have other simple technologies like drying beds that require no energy and which have the potential to improve soil fertility. There is more work to be done on making them safe but people are working on that - for instance those in e-Thekwini South Africa.

There are lots of questions around the way in which current sludge treatment processes work and I would say that our focus should be on researching and improving these simple, relatively low-cost and low energy options before going for high-tech 'solutions, which have rarely worked in the past and are unlikely to work now.

One last point - this technology does not solve the problem of fecal waste collection, transport and disposal. It probably depends for its financial viability on regular pit and tank desludging but many people build large pits that do not require desluding for years, at least in South East Asia. Some argue that regular desludging will decrease groundwater pollution but this is a doubtful proposition since pathogen reduction through even well maintained septic tanks is limited. (For those who think that septic tank systems are sealed systems - they are not. The tank itself is but it should be followed by a soakpit or trench drainage system that relies on percolation).

So lets concentrate on the real problems and get away from ingenious high-tech approaches that are almost bound to fail in the field.

Kevin Tayler
Independent water and sanitation consultant
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Re: Drinking Water From Feces - Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (sewage sludge, Janicki Omniprocessor)

Dear Kevin,
You made many very good points here and I tend to agree with nearly all of them.
Except for this one:

The objective of the Omni-processor is to convert dried fecal sludge to drinking water - this is very clear from their literature.


Maybe I haven't read all their literature (which literature in particular do you mean?), but I am pretty certain that the main objective of the Omni-processor is to turn sludge (faecal sludge, sewage sludge) into a safe and harmless product under minimal consumption of energy, or even under surpluss of energy, by burning it (energy production could be possible if the input material is dry enough).

As far as I can tell, that little bit of water that is produced in the process (from evaporation and condensation) is not the main aim of the process but just a nice by-product. If you wanted to produce clean water, there are much easier and cheaper ways for that. But it makes for good publicity.

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Elisabeth

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Re: Drinking Water From Feces - Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (sewage sludge, Janicki Omniprocessor)

I also sent an e-mail to the company Janicki to find out a bit more about the Omni-processor. This is what I wrote:

• Does your process also take raw faecal sludge (from septic tanks) or only sewage sludge?
• What is the minimum solids content that the input sludge into your process must have? Can it take sludge before dewatering?

These are the answers I received from them:

++++++++

• Yes, the processor takes raw faecal sludge. With raw sludge (assuming 98%+ moisture), a secondary waste stream (ie, crop waste, sorted garbage, etc) will be required to maintain the energy required for the unit. The processor is designed to accept this secondary fuel source.
• Similar to my answer above. If the sludge is too wet, you can just supplement with a secondary source. Overall, the S200 unit needs 10-12 dry tons a day. That can come from solids within the sludge or a secondary source. For S200 model the minimum solids content around 10%. Hope that helps; there is a data sheet on our website; note the S100 will be different from S200, however.

Janicki Bioenergy

+++++++++

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Elisabeth

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  • kevintayler
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Re: Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (Omni-processor by Janicki to process sludge)

Dear Elizabeth

In answer to your query about where I got the information about the omniprocessor and water production, the answer is from their website. At janickibioenergy.com/index.html they refer to 'eliminating the pathogens and making clean drinking water' and they go on to say that 'there is enough energy to boil the water and make it biosafe'. At janickibioenergy.com/index.html they start their list of things that the S100 omniprocessor can do by saying that it can produce 10,800 litres per day and at janickibioenergy.com/s200.html , they do put the electricity production first but then go on to say that the S200 will produce up to 8600 litres of clean water. These figures are actually not that big - convert them to cubic metres and it is clear that we are talking about small amounts in the overall scheme of things.

I have another, more important, problem with their claims on this website. The S200 fact sheet claims that they can produce enough drinking water for 35,000 people. equates to about 2.45 litres per person for their maximum claimed output. This claim is true in so far as the amount of water produced could meet the drinking needs for 35000 people but the reality is that the claim can only be true if they can bottle or otherwise package the water and distribute it to people - overall household water needs would clearly be much more. Bottling the water is not impossible - but organizing its distribution would not be easy and would be fairly expensive.

Unfotunately, they give very little information on the omniprocessor itself and my impression is that their website is rather selective in the way in which it presents the data. I have not looked at the alternative energy production figures but I suspect that, like the claimed water production figures, they will prove to be fairly small in comparison with overall needs.

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Re: Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (Omni-processor by Janicki to process sludge)

Dear all,
As Kevin points out, am really looking for the gap that the omniprocessors will fill in my setting- Uganda (a developing country).
Most of the solid waste is collected and treated on site using septic tanks and soak pits if lucky and few people are connected to the central sewer system. Majority of the population uses pit latrines which are not even lined so there is no option of emptying them but excavating a new pit.

How do they plan to get the resource i.e sludge they need for there processor? Except from the treatment plant were volumes are low how do they plan to roll it out into the communities?

How do they plan to distribute the energy they plan to produce during the burning of the waste if any is left?

Like Kevin pointed out, how will you distribute the water collected?
A heads up here: consider the acceptability of this water in the community!!!! You may produce water that no one wants to come near!!!

And what are the final implications of the processors as compared to what the community currently have?
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  • awhitesell
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Re: Drinking Water From Feces - Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (sewage sludge, Janicki Omniprocessor)

Hi Kevin,

I'd like to point out that the Janicki OP is not intended to solve the problem of fecal waste collection and transport. The technology being developed in the Omni-Ingestor project is intended to deal with those issues.

While I'm a fan of solving problems using the simplest technology possible, the solution must address the problem statement. The foundation is attempting to develop technology for specific applications, namely sludge management in densely populated urban settlements. For a wide range of reasons, traditional means of waste management are not working or are not implemented in this market.

Cheers,

Andrew

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Re: Drinking Water From Feces - Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (sewage sludge, Janicki Omniprocessor)

Dear All
Omni Ingestor (OI) and Omni Processor (OP) by Janicki were also demonstrated during the last exhibition on RTTC organized by BIRAC/ BMGF in Delhi in 2014.
Cost of one unit was much more. It was higher than the annual budget of Sanitation Head of most of the Local bodies of small towns. Cost of electricity produced per day from such unit was calculated to be much lower than the cost of interest (as per standard Bank interest rate) on the cost of the unit. Further, costs of maintenance and collection / transportation and manpower are extra. Therefore, income generated from the system can’t meet even the interest amount of the bank, if the project is funded by any Bank. The cost is calculated when the system runs into its full capacity, i.e., loading of 35 cum of septage per day. Such volume is quite large.
The technology does not appear economically sustainable.

Cheers

Pawan

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Re: Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (Omni-processor by Janicki to process sludge)

A couple of further points.

Andrew says that the omniprocessor is not meant to deal with faecal sludge collection and transport. OK, but it is important to look at the whole sanitation chain - there is ample evidence from Asia that most faecal sludge treatment plants are underloaded and it is important to at least have an idea of how the sludge is going to get to the plant at the design stage.

Andrew - you say that the solution must address the problem statement. The obvious follow up question is 'what is the problem statement for the omniprocessor?'. The website focuses on electricity generation but Pawan has suggested that the financing and operational costs are likely to exceed the income generated from selling electricity.

The capacity of the S200 is said to be about 92 cubic metres per day. This is quite a large volume - few septage treatment plants in medium-sized towns receive this volume although the volume would be increased if scheduled emptying could be introduced. There have been attempts to do this but there is still a long way to go before such attempts can be deemed successful. Regardless of this, the minimum dry solids required 10 - 11 tonnes per day, is much higher than the amount reaching most septage treatment plants. The website does say that additional dry combustible matter can be used to augment the dry matter produced from sludge and so bring the weight up to the minimum required by the plant. To me, this sounds like adjusting the problem to suit the technology and it would be better to start from the problem and explore technologies to solve the problem. Simpler and cheaper technologies are available so why go for something that is expensive and relatively complex?

So, I come back to my question above - 'what is the problem statement?' and add a second 'in what ways does the omniprocessor offer a better response to the problem than other technologies?'

Kevin Tayler
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Re: Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (Omni-processor by Janicki to process sludge)

HI Kevin,

Agreed, it is important to look at the entire sanitation chain and I think the foundation is doing that. Besides the Omni-Ingestor project (collection and delivery) and the Omni-Processor (solids processing) they are investing in technology and testing of new service models, improving policy and regulatory conditions, looking at ways of increasing demand for sanitation services, and engaging manufacturing partners with sufficient capacity.

The foundation’s initial approach for the RT, OP, and OI was to cast a wide net and try to identify novel technologies that might someday become viable means of improving sanitation in urban settings. They are gradually focusing on fewer technologies that they consider viable.

Regarding the OP: I’m not at liberty to disclose the Omni-Processor RFP but the idea was to develop means of processing combined fecal sludge and solid waste in a small facility serving 1000 to 100k people in dense urban settlements. The processed waste could result in energy, fertilizer, or soil amendments that would generate revenue and offset the waste collection costs. The Janicki OP, which isn’t the only OP project, may not adhere to the original RFP but that isn’t shocking as this is an R&D effort. As you suggest, the problem may have been adjusted to suit the technology. Again, not shocking, as there is a learning curve associated with new projects, new players, new objectives, etc.

In response to your second question: does the OP offer a better response to the problem than other technologies? I don’t know. There will undoubtedly be cases where the answer is no. But there may be cases where the answer is yes. If the foundation and Janicki think they are on a path to a solution, it is their prerogative to follow it. The S100 and the S200 won’t be the only solutions or the final solutions. Ultimately, the goal is to have commercially viable, sustainable products and product development doesn’t just end…it’s a process and the Janicki OP is a step in that process.

Here’s a question for you: If there are simpler and cheaper technologies available, why are they not being utilized? Can they fit in one or two 40’ shipping containers or do they require large plots of land? Can they be located in urban areas to reduce transportation costs? Do they generate revenue? If not, what compels their adoption and motivates a private enterprise to make the investment and maintain the equipment. Is the expectation that a government agency will operate the facility? That seems to have a poor record of success.

Regards

Andrew Whitesell
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Re: Bill Gates blog post: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (Omni-processor by Janicki to process sludge)

Even though mechanically it is possible to make drinking water out of feces it is illogical to utilize copious amounts of water to flush organic resources from the toilet and garbage disposal to some far away separation facility when utilizing a fraction of the amount of water and separating the blackwater from the remaining greywater onsite with proven decentralized technologies with .2 of a gallon of water per flush and a small amount of water for the separated garbage disposal, 100 percent of those resources can be converted into carbon dioxide and water vapor and reusable liquid and solid soil compost with the greywater treated, filtered, ozoned, carboned and reverse osmosis recycled into drinking quality with a 95 percent recovery is possible without the yuck factor.

Therefore, separation reduces the need for water, separation mentally is acceptable and separation makes it easier doing it onsite.

The immediate initial assumption that human excrement and organic kitchen scraps are WASTES needs to be re-evaluated utilizing separation wastewater plumbing and treatment systems and Mother Nature's natural methods of aerobic decomposition and vermiculture.

Once we understand that the WASTES we are trying to dispose/get rid of are actually liquid and solid gold for total recycling into food production instead of oil will we be able to comprehend that the remaining greywater can be recycled by getting the majority of the problem out of the water with separation, not to mention reducing the need for water immediately by at least 40 percent.

Please Google Equaris Corporation, AlasCan, WCCO TV NEWS PROJECT ENERGY, Don Shelby, Afton, MN.

As Bucky proclaimed, we need to design PRODUCTIVE not CONSUMPTIVE dwellings to be sustainable with technologies logically treating entities separately as they were and are created.

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