Climate Foundation demonstrated its innovative processing solution for human waste management at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India. One half of India's population (which is more than all the people in the United States) and a total of more than 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to adequate sanitation.
This year’s fair, co-hosted by the Government of India's Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted creative approaches to develop affordable and sustainable sanitation solutions without connections to sewer, electrical, or water systems.
The Climate Foundation biochar reactor comprises an innovative breakthrough in managing human solid waste that can eliminate the need for externally delivered power, water or sewers, while being financially sustainable. The reactor can process the waste from thousands of people per day, by converting it to biochar - biological charcoal - that can be used as a soil amendment among other beneficial uses.
Dr. Brian von Herzen, Executive Director of the Climate Foundation, says “We are working with an international team of experts to reinvent the toilet. Together we aim to solve the global sanitation problem by processing human solid waste into biochar - a pathogen-free and odor-free resource that can be used as a valuable agricultural supplement.”
Climate Foundation staff and partners gathered in India to assemble their prototype for the fair. Other partners included:
● Sanergy has worked with Climate Foundation on a lab in Nairobi to analyze human waste and produce biochar samples. Sanergy will field-test the prototype later this year.
● Cornell University Department of Crop & Soil Sciences researchers study biochar’s usefulness as a soil amendment around the world.
● Agfuel Energy Systems from Aurora, MO, in the United States, has provided two biomass furnace bases, which are retrofitted to meet the standards of processing human waste.
● Prasino Group from Calgary, Canada provides operations, sales, and marketing for biochar.
● Tide Technocrats India provides design and manufacturing expertise in Bangalore, India.
● ClearStak is an environmental engineering company in Woodstock, Connecticut in the United States, and has retrofitted the biochar reactor.
● Thermal Energy International in Ottawa, Canada has designed the waste heat recovery system and the energy efficient biomass dryer to dry human waste.
● Triopac, based in Montreal, Canada has worked on the manufacturing of the biomass dryer.
● Genoa Stirling from Milan, Italy is providing a Stirling engine for generating several kilowatts of electricity at target price points.
Biochar is created from biomass, which is heated in a low-oxygen environment, creating a high-quality charcoal. When mixed with depleted soil, biochar can reduce the amount of fertilizer and water needed to grow crops. Biochar is retained in soils for more than 1000 years.
The biochar reactor can process up to 100 kg human waste per hour with no pretreatment, and recaptures heat of condensation for energy-efficient drying. It could process human waste for less than 5 cents (based on the US dollar) per person per day. Biochar as an agricultural soil supplement can potentially be sold in Kenya for ~$550 per ton.
Dustin Dover, AgFuel director of operations, says “I am excited to be a part of the demonstration and the innovation that has the potential to mitigate sanitation problems in impoverished regions of the world.”
“Partnering with the Climate Foundation allows us to explore Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technology while helping to resolve the problem with human waste,” explains Dover. “ClearStak, LLC, the company that manufactures the electric components for AgFuel furnaces, has modified these systems to burn human waste for this challenge. The result is a unique system that not only produces heat, but power, too.”
William Crossland, CEO of Thermal Energy International Inc, said: “We are excited by the future possibilities that this sanitation solution may represent. The prototype unit utilizes our FLU-ACE® heat recovery system and our DRY-REX® Biomass Dryer technologies to recapture waste heat for energy-efficient drying. While there is still work to do to optimize and commercialize the system, the Biochar sanitation solution represents an innovative breakthrough in managing human solid waste and, consistent with goals of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, is designed to eliminate the need for power, water or sewers, while being financially sustainable.”
Hamish Fallside, Chief Operating Officer of Climate Foundation, helped lead the research and development of the reactor. Fallside describes how the solution is able to produce its own energy.
“After drying, the human waste is fed into the carbonizer, an oven heating it up to 300-700 degrees Celsius, without oxygen present to make biochar,” Fallside says. “As you know from barbecuing, charcoal contains energy. In this case, the energy can be used to heat up the carbonizer, or removed and used for agricultural purpose or fuel. Heat from the carbonizer powers the Stirling Engine, which produces electrical energy to power the drying system - closing the loop. Leftover heat helps to dry the input material.”
Fallside says the “The system is a valuable addition to the sanitation chain because it can easily be put in a remote area, processing the waste of thousands of people per day. All components support easy maintenance and affordability.”
Climate Foundation is also receiving an $85,000 grant to adapt the system for Kivalina, Alaska, an Arctic North America community that faces significant public sanitation concerns in the midst of severe climate change.
The pilot project is co-developed with the municipal and tribal councils in Kivalina, an Alaskan native village of approximately 400 people. Phase 1 of the Community-Scale Feces Waste Treatment (CSFWT) project involves conducting research and analysis for the conceptual design.
Other benefits include the entrepreneurial potential for biochar to be sold in the region and the system’s resilience to climate change. Says Dr. von Herzen, “Biochar reactors require no underground pipes, self-generate the energy required to operate, and are easily transportable by shipping container to possible future village sites being planned in response to the impacts of climate change on Kivalina.”
Biochar Reactor Exhibit at Reinvent The Toilet Fair in New Delhi, showing the carbonizer in front of the shipping container, which contains the biomass dryer. Exhaust from the dryer passes through the orange odor filters on top of the container.
Some Climate Foundation team members and partners at Reinvent the Toilet Fair: standing left to right are David Homa, Los Gatos High School California; Laura Talsma, Climate Foundation marketing; Dustin Dover, AgFuel; Sampath Kumar, Tide Technocrats; Jeff Hallowell, Clearstak; kneeling left to right are Hamish Fallside, Climate Foundation COO; and Dr Brian Von Herzen, Climate Foundation Ex. Director.