U of T engineers place third in Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet for developing world

It’s something we take for granted every day but 2.5 billion people in the developing world don’t have the luxury of modern toilets. Can you even imagine what that would be like? Besides the obvious constant inconvenience, it also leaves them vulnerable to disease from polluted water sources and unhealthy sanitation conditions that kill an estimated one million children every year!

While a solution may seem simple to us, it’s not so simple in developing countries. They don’t have access to a lot of water or the money to build expensive sewage systems and treatment plants like the ones we rely on without even thinking about them.

That’s why the Bill & Melina Gates Foundation launched the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to focus the best engineering skills in the world on developing waterless toilets that cost less than five cents per person per day to operate.

The Gates Foundation committed $3 million in research grants to eight universities worldwide to engineer the “magic toilet.” The Centre for Global Engineering at the University of Toronto received a $400,000 grant and their creative engineering came up with a third place winner!

Working together with the University of Edinburgh, Western University, OCAD University and technical experts in Bangladesh, U of T’s entry used complex engineering concepts to create a toilet that’s incredibly simple.

The U of T news release announcing the win says the toilet “uses a sand filter and UV-ray disinfecting chamber to process liquid waste and a smolder chamber, similar to a charcoal barbeque, to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried in a roller/belt assembly. The result is a toilet that is sustainable, easy to use and that processes waste while protecting the community from contamination.” Click on this link to see a video explaining how the U of T design works. 

If you thought a career in engineering would only be about developing plans to build bridges or buildings, that’s only one small part of it. U of T’s Centre for Global Engineering has the motto – we solve the world’s most important problems. Professor Yu-Ling Cheng leads the Centre. In the video below, she describes the Centre’s innovative approach to engineering and why the Gates challenge is an important part of the Centre’s mission.


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