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

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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.
Kevin Tayler
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Horsham
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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

+++++++++

Regards,
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)

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.

Regards,
Elisabeth
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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
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Horsham
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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.
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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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 :-)
Rémi Kaupp
Executive Director, Container-Based Sanitation Alliance

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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 see that the claim is that the process will create more than the energy it needs. This seems unlikely.

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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 think F H Mughal asked the right question - what is the cost. The energy production and clean water seem to me to be a bit irrelevant given that energy (and maybe water) will be used in the process.

It seems unlikely that more than a fraction of the energy use will be recovered from the steam and also unlikely that this alone will cover the financial costs of the enterprise. If water has been boiled as part of the process, it is no surprise that a byproduct is high quality potable water.

I would be curious to know under which circumstances this would be a viable alternative to existing sewage sludge treatment options.

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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)

Always astounding that poor and developing countries subsidise power on the name of the poor.

But by doing so, exclude the majority or large minority from having any access because they make investment non-viable!

Lets focus on making self-sufficiency and off grid village level options biable and available, so people in all circumstances can "cut the cord"
Creator of the RealChange Global Impact Fund and MCM GREENMAN GROUP

Solving housing quality , power reliability, water supply and sanitation management in developing countries with private sector impact investors money

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* Make sure it's the real problem (by talking to the people with the problem).
* Find people who are solving this problem somewhere in the world and collaborate - and learn from them to solve the problem
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  • F H Mughal
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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,

The new edition of Sustainable Sanitation Practice, Issue 22 (www.ecosan.at/ssp/issue-22-energy-heat-r...y/SSP-22_Jan2015.pdf) is all about energy and wastewater treatment plants.

Smiles,

F H Mughal
F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan

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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,

Well, I think it is not quite correct to compare the Omni Processor with the advanced wastewater treatment plants in Namibia...

The point is, and that did not come out clearly in the press release: this is a sewage sludge treatment process, not a sewage treatment process. So it only processes the sludge.

That aspect about the drinking water was in my opinion purely for the added media attention but not because anyone would want to really put this process water into the water supply network. It was just to get the media attention. The headline "Bill Gates drings water from feces" is much more catchy than "Bill Gates inspected the pilot plant of a new sewage sludge processing unit"...

If I remember right we had in the 1980s or 1990s a minister in Germany who famously drank water directly from our river Rhine to demonstrate that it was no longer as polluted as it had been before. But he did not advocate that from now on, everyone should drink raw river water. Come to think of it, politicians do that from time to time (drinking certain waters), even though it proves nothing of course...

By the way, there is already a Wikipedia page on the Omni Processor now (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omni_Processor). Someone from Birmingham started it and I saw it by coincidence as it was linked from the sewage sludge treatment page that I have on my watch list (and which still needs further work):
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewage_sludge_treatment

After I saw it, I improved it a little, because it had also confused it for a sewage treatment process.

Apart from this, I agree that this process is probably not particularly relevant to most developing countries. Why do I say that? Well there are already other sewage sludge treatment processes out there that can be set up to produce electricity, like the Camby process which has been around for quite some years (www.cambi.no/wip4/detail.epl?cat=10636).

The problem is that to make the additional capital investment wortwhile, it only works if the electricity prices are reasonably high. In many developing countries they are highly subsidised though to make energy "cheap".
You can see e.g. here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_pricing :

Average in India:
7 US-cents per kWh for electricty
(ranging from 0.1-18 US-cents per kWh for different states)

In Germany on the other hand it is much more expensive:
36.25 US-cents per kWh

and therefore such a process is more likely to be commercially interesting in a country like Germany, not in a country like India or Pakistan - until the electricity prizes also raise there.

The same applies to water, which is also a lot cheaper in most developing countries than in Germany.
Therefore, processes that are trying to save or recylce water or energy have a tough time to be commercially viable in most developing countries but are more interesting for some of the developed countries, like Germany.

It proves again the point that Giacomo and Rémi made abvoe: "the public sector needs to first create an environment for private parties to thrive" (and again it re-inforces my point that I made elsewhere, when we discussed forum categories, that governance and business belong together and not apart).


Kind regards,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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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 have only just seen this. I have one big question. WHY IS GATES WASTING ITS MONEY ON SUCH AN IRRELEVANT TOPIC. No doubt, its possible to clean wastewater to the extent that it could be drunk but why bother - there will always be other less problematic and cheaper options. It is bound to be costly and there is always the chance that it will not function properly and then there is a very high risk of disease transmission. We seem to go round in circles and the same impractical ideas come up every 30 years ago. One of the first books on sanitation that I read, with chapters from some of th pioneers like John Kalbermatten and Duncan Mara, concluded with a chapter on a scheme to convert sewage to drinking water in Namibia. The editors provided an introduction saying that it had been included as an example of how not to try to solve water supply and sanitation challenges. In my view they were quite right but we seem to have forgotten many of the basic lessons about how to introduce improved sanitation systems while worrying about supposed solutions that are more and more esoteric.
Kevin Tayler
Independent water and sanitation consultant
Horsham
UK

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