Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

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Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Dear all,

Here is an introduction about my project which had a research grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (GCE grant, Phase 1) until October 2012. Whilst the funding from the BMGF stopped last year, we are still going strong as you can see from the information below.

Title of grant: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities

Name of lead organization: Ghana Sustainable Aid Project (GSAP)
  • Primary contact at lead organization: Stephen Mecca
  • Grantee location: Jamestown, Rhode Island & Pokuase, Ghana
  • Developing country where the research is being or will be tested: Ghana
Short description of the project:
The GCE R6 grant enabled GSAP to bring together the Microflush valve and the Biofil digester, a macro-organism enhanced aerobic digester and field test these in several configurations (household- school and public toilets) in a rural community in Ghana. The results have been impressive for the technology. The implications for household toilets are most promising though the cost has had to be addressed. The challenge is going to scale. The S-Lab at Providence College has succeeded in developing a locally sourced and fabricated version of a GSAP Microflush toilet at drastically reduced cost.

Goal(s):
The goal of the original project was to develop and field test in Ghana a prototype toilet facility that incorporates the digester to decompose waste along with a microflush valve that uses minimal amounts (~150 cc) of grey water from hand washing.

Objectives: Assess the functioning of the toilets in field settings.

Start and end date: Mai 2011 until 31 Oct 2012
Grant type: GCE R6

Funding for this research currently ongoing (yes/no):
Through the S-Lab in the Department of Engineering-Physics-Systems we have received small supplementary grants for moving the project forward. Current research and development is centered on reducing the costs, effecting a locally sourced and fabricated system and advancing the technology with several blackwater treatment approaches.

Research or implementation partners: GSAP and the S-Lab at Providence College

Links, further readings, results to date:

Our website: www.ghanasustainableaid.org/

Documents in SuSanA library: www.susana.org/en/resources/library/details/1809

The entry contains for example a presentation at the FSM-2 Conference in Durban in Oct. 2012

Video from my presentation at the same conference:



Recently I presented a paper at the ECOSUD conference in Bukarest:

ECOSUD 2013 Conference paper: library.witpress.com/pages/PaperInfo.asp?PaperID=24755

Or see here:
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Current state of affairs:
The GCE R6 award allowed us to successfully prototype in a rural community in Ghana the Microflush valve with the Biofil digester in 3 types of installations, household-level toilets, a 5-stall school toilet and a 10 stall public toilet. At this time our focus is on locally sourced and fabricated scale up activities and continuing R&D on the GSAP Microflush toilet for which we are getting the small grants we need and making solid progress.

Biggest successes so far: The household level units have worked flawlessly; the school toilets have worked well but have required supervision and instruction for the students. The household level units were factory built and fabricated; the owners are not in the lower 2/5ths of the household income spectrum. The factory-centric models are very expensive at $1200 per unit. While meeting the under 5 cents per use objective of the BMGF, it is still beyond the reach of the lowest quintiles of the household income spectrum. However, recent research and development in the S-Lab at Providence College has resulted in a locally sourced and fabricated version that is approaching the goal price of $300 making it affordable to the poorest of the poor especially if small micro-finance loans are available. GSAP's model of empowering a local entrepreneur through training with well-prepared highly visual materials on toilet construction is beginning to show very positive signs. In just a few months we have so-trained several such entrepreneur-craftsmen, who are now building toilets in their respective communities. We are investing in this model for scaling up the new GSAP Microflush toilet, which is off-grid, sustainable, locally sourced and fabricated and affordable.

Main challenges / frustration: The workmanship in the factory-centric 10 stall public toilet was poor; the factory failed to prepare the digester bed prior to use and the facility, while it has been restarted, suffers from the usual issues of public toilets. GSAP is convinced that everyone should have access to toilet ownership.

If you want to know more about our work in Ghana, please ask.

Regards,
Steve

Stephen Mecca, Ph.D.
Professor
Department Engineering-Physics-Systems
S-Lab
Providence College
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Visiting Scholar
Department of Computer Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Science
University of Ghana

Project coordinator at Ghana Sustainable Aid Project:
www.ghanasustainableaid.org/

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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Dear Steve,

Thanks for introducing your project here on the forum.
I am wondering about the practical aspects in Ghana. As we have quite a few forum readers from Ghana, where in Ghana could they go and see any of your installations? How many have been sold or installed?

I am a bit worried that overall it is still technically too complex, especially if you see the rural households as your prime customers. Even if you have trained your technical staff and service personnel well: they might not be available when a relative has died or when they fall sick. How long could the user wait or can they solve problems themselves? The fact that flushing water has to be stored and be available for the toilet to function could also be a critical point in the longer term.

Do you have photos to show what the toilets look like after 1 or more years of use?

What is your concept to achieve upscaling, i.e. to reach lots of people?

Who are the local organisations in Ghana that your NGO (the Ghana Sustainable Aid Project) works with?

By the way, how far away is your project team from Accra, and have they ever visited the Valley View University? What do you think of their urine diversion dehydration toilets? See some information about those toilets here on the forum:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/91-pro...mit=12&start=24#5078

Regards,
Elisabeth

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  • smecca
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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Thanks for your important questions, Elisabeth. Let me try to answer these per the current state of things.

Our model for going to scale is using a locally sourced and locally fabricated version of the GSAP Microflush system. Re: complexity, we recently took a first draft of our fabrication instructions and sent these to a non-technical person and Mason (we call this combination a "Maker". We provided no on-site instruction but visited the site when the toilet was finished and voila! there was our toilet. While the original training guide needed several improvements, we were definitely encouraged that our scaling model was going to work. There have been well over 1000 of the factory made toilets installed, but this was the first locally sourced and locally made one. Others are in process. One can see both the factory version ($1200) and our local version ( a little over $300) in Pokuase Village in Ghana. A photo of one of the original toilets that has been operating for nearly 3 years is shown in my paper.

There is no issue of market; when a household sees the toilet, they want one. Three families saw the Pokuase toilet and all now want one for their households.

Re: flushing, the Microflush valve flushes on 150 cc ( a cup) of water; this water comes from the previous users handwashing. Handwashing is something that should be encouraged and the water used is reused for the flush. The fact that this water is used (needed for effective operation) is not a problem. A small bucket gets filled once a week for this purpose.

We expect to reach lots of people with our scaling model; the model will empower Makers in community after community bringing development benefit as well as a sanitation benefit to each community. We are training ~20 Makers in Ghana next month plus our first 2 in Nigeria, Nepal and Haiti this summer with several others in the wings. I expect this to go viral; based on the last few weeks, it perhaps already has begun this trajectory.

In Ghana we are in the early stages of working with PDG and the Peace Corps.

Finally, no I have not visited Valley View University or the toilet there but the SuSana post from Wolfgang Berger pretty much supports our theory that public toilets (even with sound underlying technology) are not a solution for the menace of sanitation around the world. GSAP and my S-Lab believe that everyone deserves access to a household level toilet. That access requires effective technology and affordability. That is why we are working to get the cost down and the underlying reason for our scale-up model.

..Steve

Stephen Mecca, Ph.D.
Professor
Department Engineering-Physics-Systems
S-Lab
Providence College
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Visiting Scholar
Department of Computer Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Science
University of Ghana

Project coordinator at Ghana Sustainable Aid Project:
www.ghanasustainableaid.org/
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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Dear Steve,

Thanks a lot for your quick response.

Some small follow-on questions:

Which Ghanaian organisations are involved in this work in Ghana, or is it solely the NGO GSAP, together with those local makers? How about any local authorities? I see that you mention PDG and the Peace Corps. What doese PDG stand for? And the Peace Corps, how do they work with local organisations (I don't know much about the Peace Corps' work in sanitation projects - I gather it is a US-based organisation that encourages American volunteers (students) to spend some months up to 2 years in a developing country building toilets - is this roughly correct?)

Can you please provide photos of the process of removing the compost or of the compost itself? What do the toilet owners do with it? How much compost is produced per year? Have you measured if there are helminth eggs in it?

I checked where Pokuase is with Google Maps: about 50 km North of Accra, is that right? I.e. here:



Are all 1000 of the toilets that have been installed in that district or are they also in other parts of the country?

And lastly, you wrote:

supports our theory that public toilets (even with sound underlying technology) are not a solution for the menace of sanitation around the world.


I just want to point out that the mentioned toilet at Valley View University in Accra is not a public toilet. It is a toilet for the students that study there and have dormatories there. Of course household toilets are very important, but we cannot neglect the situation in schools, universities, markets, work places etc. either. Also for these cases, good sustainable sanitation systems are needed. Which is what that ecosan project tried to do at Valley View Uni where their system of sanitation and reuse was a good demonstration for a number of years. When maintenance is neglected, even a well set-up system will fail of course.

Regards,
Elisabeth

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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Elisabeth:
GSAP is the lead in Ghana; I mentioned that we work with Makers and other organizations, including the POkuase Development Association, Peace Corps, and recently with PDG. Remember we are just rolling out our locally sourced & fabricated version. Save for village chiefs and individual assembly members, we have not worked with the ministries.
THe factory made Microflush Biofil systems are installed all around the country.
I don't have any photos of the compost; I'll remind my self to take some. A deep analysis has not been done but I assume there will be helminth eggs present in the sludge; I recall a paper by Doulaye Kone several years ago detailing a study that found a 20-30 to 1 reduction in mixed sludge co-composted with other organics. I assume we would have similar reduction but there is no substitute for deep analysis of the compost.
"we cannot neglect the situation in schools"..of course we can't; it goes without saying. While schools are not the focus of our work, we have installed a 5 stall school toilet in Pokuase but we are overcoming the plethora of challenges one finds in school facilities by careful daily supervision of the facilities.
..Steve

Stephen Mecca, Ph.D.
Professor
Department Engineering-Physics-Systems
S-Lab
Providence College
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Visiting Scholar
Department of Computer Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Science
University of Ghana

Project coordinator at Ghana Sustainable Aid Project:
www.ghanasustainableaid.org/
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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Elisabeth, I forgot to mention that the US Peace Corps isn't a toilet-building organization; you can find out about the Peace Corps on their web site. We have been working with a couple of their volunteers to facilitate local training for Makers in their respective communities.
The ~1000+ Microflush toilets are the factory made Microflush-Biofil toilets and they are located throughout Ghana not just in Pokuase which is part of Amasaman (the map you posted) in the GaWest District.
..Steve

Stephen Mecca, Ph.D.
Professor
Department Engineering-Physics-Systems
S-Lab
Providence College
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Visiting Scholar
Department of Computer Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Science
University of Ghana

Project coordinator at Ghana Sustainable Aid Project:
www.ghanasustainableaid.org/
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  • christian.rieck
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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Dear Stephen,

it is interesting to read about your project. I have tried to understand the mechanism on which microflush is working, but it sketches in your paper and descriptions do not go into depth. Do you have pictures or a movie on it?

Best regards,
Christian

GIZ Uganda
Reform of the Urban Water and Sanitation Sector (RUWASS)
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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

The locally sourced and fabricated version is a fairly simple pan valve held in place by gravity through a counterbalance made from used water bottles. A sketch of the valve in a part of the user interface is below. We are producing an the 2nd version of an elaborate training guide for building our locally sourced and fabricated GSAP Microflush toilets. We use this for training our toilet Makers. If you have potential local community tradesmen that are interested in our training program, let me know.
..Steve


Stephen Mecca, Ph.D.
Professor
Department Engineering-Physics-Systems
S-Lab
Providence College
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Visiting Scholar
Department of Computer Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Science
University of Ghana

Project coordinator at Ghana Sustainable Aid Project:
www.ghanasustainableaid.org/
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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

I recieved the following information and photos from Steve about his project by e-mail:

+++++++++++++++

Attached are photos of: one of our Makers just finishing a new toilet for a user last month, the owner (a woman) and the bowl before it was cleaned, another photo of an owner (a man) and the Microflush toilet from 3 years ago.

I don't have any photos of "maintenance", e.g. fixing a broken valve or handle or door as we haven't observed much of this; maintenance for us is the 2-3 year need to harvest compost and restart the system and, no, this is not harder than construction. I think you are focused on the traditional pit latrine and the ritual of sludge removal. Yes, our makers are being trained to do the 2 year harvesting and restarting and they will be paid by users for the service. They remove a couple of wheelbarrows of useful compost; in the factory-made versions, the charge has been ~ 30-40 GHC ($20) but it occurs every 2 - 3 years.













+++++++++++

He has mentioned in one of his posts above that about 1000 factory-made toilets have been installed in Ghana (this is separate to his project). I asked him which company is behind that, and he told me they are called:

Biofilcom ( www.biofilcom.org/ )

This is a Ghanaian company, who are serving more the high-end market in Ghana, whereas Steve's project is targeting the low-income housholds.

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Re: The potential of subsurface infiltration for the treatment of vermibed effluents generated by the Biofil toilet. (UNESCO-IHE/KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana)

Dear SuSanA Community
In an effort to promote sustainable sanitation for the developing world, and as a requirement for my MSc thesis for the 2011/13 double degree MSc programme in Sanitary Engineering by UNESCO-IHE and KNUST, Kumasi, A study has been done on the full flush Biofil Toilet in Ghana. Biofil toilet has two versions, the microflush system in this topic by the Ghana Sustainable aid project which uses very little water and the Full flush system. In my study the full flush system has been considered to look for its environmental impact of the infiltrating wastewater to the underground system. This is therefore to share you our experience and to initiate discussion for further improvement and promotion of the technology in the future.

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The full report will soon be made available. We highly acknowledge any valuable comments, suggestions, discussions and recommendations that can be forwarded.

Thanks for your attention

Adane Sewhunegn Molla, Environmental Engineer(MSc)
Lecturer, Dept. of Public and Environmental Health
Hawassa University, College of Health Sciences
Hawassa, Ethiopia
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  • smecca
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Re: The potential of subsurface infiltration for the treatment of vermibed effluents generated by the Biofil toilet. (UNESCO-IHE/KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana)

We are delighted that you have undertaken this study and look forward to the full report. The S-Lab at Providence College in the US has been studying several options for blackwater treatment from our digester. We expect publishable results in the first quarter of 2014; I will keep you posted on this.
..Steve Mecca

Stephen Mecca, Ph.D.
Professor
Department Engineering-Physics-Systems
S-Lab
Providence College
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Visiting Scholar
Department of Computer Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Science
University of Ghana

Project coordinator at Ghana Sustainable Aid Project:
www.ghanasustainableaid.org/
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  • christian.rieck
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Re: Prototype Microflush-Biofil Toilet Facilities (Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, USA and Ghana)

Dear all,

I just found a nice video which shows the micro flushing mechanism in action. It seems simple and easy to be handled. Great low-cost technology invented in Africa :-)



Cheers
Christian


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