Bill Gates swigs back sewage sludge

It could be the opening line of a joke criticising Microsoft’s products, but Bill Gates is dead serious about putting sewage in his mouth – thanks to a potentially life-saving technology that can transform raw sewage into clean drinking water.

The innovative technology is called the OmniProcessor, a machine developed by Janicki BioEngineering in Sedro-Wooley, Washington State – around 110 kilometres north of Microsoft’s headquarters near Seattle.

The OmniProcessor collects sewer sludge and moves it up a conveyor belt where it is boiled into water vapour. The machine operates at 1,000 degrees Celsius, which is hot enough to kill off all bacteria and remove the noxious odours, explains an article in Forbes. The water vapour is then run through a cleaning system and turned into clean drinking water.

But the innovation doesn’t stop there. The solid sewer sludge, which is dried up through the boiling process, is fed into a fire to create high-pressure steam. This steam is then sent to a steam engine, which drives the generator and makes electricity to operate the entire machine. It even creates excess electricity that can then be fed back to the community. The remaining ash, which is pathogen-free, can be used as a fertiliser in agriculture.

According to Forbes, the OmniProcessor can handle waste from 100,000 people, produce 86,000 litres of potable water per day, and generate a net 250 kW of energy. Although the machine currently costs around USD 1.5 million, it can pay for itself because the owner would get paid for the input (the sludge) and the output: electricity, drinking water, and ash.

Janicki Bioenergy has received funding from the Gates Foundation in response to a challenge issued by the charitable foundation a few years back to find a way to treat sewage locally to provide a source of clean water. The OmniProcessor does this, and more – it even meets all the emissions standards set by the U.S. government, according to the article. And as Gates is quoted as saying: “The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle. And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.”

With funding from the Gates Foundation, Janicki Bioenergy is now running a pilot project in Senegal with the goal of finding partners there and in other developing countries to invest in the waste-treatment business.

You can see for yourself how the process works in this video.
Photo credit: Gates Notes/YouTube screenshot

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