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Surprising Science

Using the Power of Toilets to Help the Poor

A new company is looking to provide sanitation services to areas that need them most and then use human waste as a source of energy.

What’s the Latest Development?

In poor areas of the world, access to sanitation can be just as important as access to food and clean water. Sanergy, a company that was started by a group of MIT students after they won a $100,000 grant, is looking to build sanitation centers in areas that need them most. The sanitation centers would provide access to hot showers and toilets and could “be built quickly and easily with affordable materials.” The first facility built in Nairobi, Kenya “charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While the primary goal of Sanergy is to provide sanitation services, its secondary goal is to create a source for renewable energy. “Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.” The  goal of the company is for the sanitation centers to proliferate, so that enough waste-to-energy power can be sold to the national electricity grid while providing an essential service to those who need it.

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