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

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  • ggalli
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  • PhD Candidate (Wageningen University) on Sanitation Governance in Gemena, DRC. Interested in governance, socio-technical approaches and politics of sanitation.
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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,
Interesting machine and great publicity indeed. My main concern is how will this machine interact with its surrounding context. I have some minor issues and a very big one.

Let's start with the minor issues. These go across various domains, which for clarity sake I have ordered using the FIETS (financial, institutional, technical, environmental, social) approach:

- Financial : the video states that the entrepreneur will be paid at both ends, both for the sludge received as for the end- and by-products. Who exactly will pay? Who will set these fees?
- Institutional: Under which standards and regulations will this plant fall? Who will monitor and enforce these?
- Technological: Availability of spare parts is always an issue of concern. So is also the training of technical operators. What are the external inputs and are these readily available?
- Environmental: Are odour issues addressed? Is there formation of toxic gases? Also good to note is that there may be a lot of solid waste mixed with the sludge.
Social: Acceptability of the end-product is an issue, as discussed above. Another issue may be that no one wants to live near the plant.

The big (and smelly) issue is however a different one. In most cities 80% of the sh*t disappears on-site. This includes leaking septic tanks, unlined latrines, and other on-site facilities which are directly discharging in drains and creeks. The underlying thought behind the development of this machine is that if somehow will make money out of human waste, there will be an incentive to collect it. However, for most entrepreneurs it will be difficult to invest in such a system if proper containment and collection is not mandatory and enforced. This requires capacity on the ground for public officials, proper regulations and a regulatory body, financial mechanisms for the poorest households etc. In short, a big push from the public sector.
This leads to a 'chicken and egg' situation: does the entrepreneur lead the way with innovation, or should the public sector first create an environment for private parties to thrive? My gut feeling is that the latter option seems more viable. New technologies will always be needed, but if there is not a context in which they can function it will be very difficult for new entrepreneurs to rise to the occasion.
So in short, great technology, but we need a lot more to really clean up the urban sanitation mess!

Giacomo
Giacomo Galli
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  • rkaupp
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Re: Drinking Water From Feces

Hello,

Excellent publicity stunt indeed, and this can hopefully help to put faecal sludge management on the agenda (and think a bit less just about toilets).

The psychological aspects are important... but this being said, I recently blogged on www.wateraid.org/news/news/gates-drinks-water-made-from-faeces that after all, depending where you live, a good proportion of your drinking water may already come from recycled wastewater, especially if your municipal supply uses river abstraction. The disgust factor is removed when people don't know or don't care where their water comes from - because they can trust their water supply.

So for me the question would be, is the Omniprocessor (and for that matter, other similar innovations) the kind of technology that would attract water utilities in developing cities? I certainly hope so (and past experience in Europe has shown that technological advances can generate enough excitement to trigger sanitation advances in municipalities) but it also has to be pitched right.

Rémi
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Drinking Water From Feces

I'm wondering about the cost of water per 1,000 gallons of water produced. Here, the cost of drinking water from municipal sources is about PRs. 10 per 1,000 gallons (1 US$ = PRs. 100, roughly). What would be the cost of water from this machine? What about the air pollution, noise and odour problems?

Assuming that the machine is installed here, what happens if it breaks down. Experts from Seattle would have to fix it - imagine the cost involved - international travel, local costs . The operation and maintenance costs (O&M), I reckon, must be prohibitive, for the developing countries. You also need qualified operators to operate this machine.

Since, regular monitoring of final water quality is crucial, this in turn, will entail high O&M costs.

Again, as I said previously: who will drink this water, psychologically?

Perhaps, someone from Bill Gates Foundation can clarify.

F H Mughal
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Karachi, Pakistan

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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Drinking Water From Feces

Dear Elisabeth,

Thank you for giving some insights on this. Your comments would serve as a good source of information. I liked that.

By the way, I cannot see the videos in your post - the space is just blank!! Can you help?

Regards,

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

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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Drinking Water From Feces

Dear Mughal,

Thanks for posting about this, I had also seen this (on Facebook) and was going to post about it. You beat me to it. :-)
Here is the direct link to the video showing Bill Gates drinking the water from this proecess:



About drinking the water, this was just a publicity stunt by Bill Gates and his team (excellent publicity stunt in my opinion, certainly grabs the attention of the media).

However, in "real life" producing drinking water from this sewage sludge processing unit would most likely not be the aim.
Actually I am not so sure what is really so innovative about it. Our colleagues in South Africa are quietly doing something very similar (LaDePa process). We have discussed it here on the forum (3 pages):
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/53-fae...-in-ethekwini-durban

Note they also uploaded two video clips recently:



and



It shows processing of faecal sludge from pit latrines in South Africa.

Coming back to that process by Janicki Industries, I wonder how expensive this machinery is and whether it can really be run in an energy-producing fashion. After all, it takes energy to dewater and dry the sludge.

Let's ask them some serious questions and perhaps we could have a nice conversation about it here on the forum?
Note also the comments (207 so far!!) at the bottom of the blog post (although many of them are more in general about Bill Gates and his Foundation's work):
www.gatesnotes.com/Development/Omniproce...From-Poop-to-Potable

A section from the blog post:

The Omniprocessor solves that problem. Through the ingenious use of a steam engine, it produces more than enough energy to burn the next batch of waste. In other words, it powers itself, with electricity to spare. The next-generation processor, more advanced than the one I saw, will handle waste from 100,000 people, producing up to 86,000 liters of potable water a day and a net 250 kw of electricity.

If we get it right, it will be a good example of how philanthropy can provide seed money that draws bright people to work on big problems, eventually creating a self-supporting industry. Our foundation is funding Janicki to do the development. It’s really amazing to see how they’ve embraced the work; founder Peter Janicki and his family have traveled to Africa and India multiple times so they can see the scope of the problem. Our goal is to make the processors cheap enough that entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries will want to invest in them and then start profitable waste-treatment businesses.


Greetings,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Freelance consultant on environmental and climate projects
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  • F H Mughal
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Bill Gates blog posts: This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water (Omni-processor by Janicki to process sludge) - now in Dakar, Senegal

On reinventing the toilet, Janicki Bioenergy, an engineering firm based north of Seattle, have developed a project called the Omniprocessor. It converts feces into clean drinking water. The quality of water meets the WHO guidelines for drinking water quality. This is the initiative of Bill Gates. See www.gatesnotes.com/Development/Omniproce...From-Poop-to-Potable

The question is: who would drink water, psychologically, even though it is safe, bacteriologically?

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

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