Tech & Science

Researchers found a way to turn poop into clean water

Poop can now be transformed into clean water in four seconds thanks to a new invention.

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Researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering are introducing a reactor that could revolutionize how waste is handled around the world.

The team has been working to perfect the technology since 2013, as part of the Reinventing the Toilet challenge sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which aims to encourage invention in water and sanitation.

The reactor works by putting organic waste under high heat and pressure, and then converts it to clean water almost instantly.

A single unit is designed to treat waste from up to 1,000 people.

The reactor could provide a more sustainable and accessible solution for waste management, which typically requires 3.5 acres of land to treat waste from just 1,000 people. The Duke-developed reactor has a much smaller footprint and can process just as much poop within a 20-foot container.

Not to mention, waste management tends to involve costly and pollution-heavy transportation. In the US, cities like New York ship their waste off to other parts of the country or world. And this waste, which can be harmful to human health, often ends up in communities where poverty is prevalent.

Residents of Parrish, Alabama, felt this unequal burden when a "poop train" carrying 10 million pounds of human waste was stranded in their town for months, this past April.

While the Duke reactor could help reduce future "poop train" debacles in the US, it could also have a major impact on developing countries where people lack access to clean water and basic sanitation in the first place.

"The developing world doesn't have the infrastructure that we have," Kobe Nagar, a senior engineer involved in the project, told the Chronicle. "They don't have a sewer system, they don't have a collection, and you need to allocate a lot of money just for that infrastructure, not to mention for treating the material."

Around the world, communities have unequal access to water and sanitation and communities living in poverty tend to bear the health burdens of poor sanitation.

An estimated 2.3 billion people around the world still don't have access to basic sanitation facilities, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And 844 million people are living without access to safe drinking water. Poor sanitation, which linked to the spread of diseases, is estimated to cause 280,000 diarrheal deaths each year.

Improving access to water and sanitation is essential to ending extreme poverty globally — the continued innovation is key.

"Poop is the new gold. That's what people are starting to realize," Nagar told the Chronicle. "And sometimes you need to leap for the industry to follow — that's what we're promoting."

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