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India, Biochar and Toilets

Climate Foundation to Present Its Innovative Solution
at Reinvent the Toilet Fair in India

News Release - March 31st 2014 For Immediate Release

Climate Foundation will be presenting its innovative solution for human waste management at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India, which coincides with World Water Day on March 22.

One quarter of India’s population (which is more than all the people in the United States) and a total of more 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to adequate sanitation today. The Climate Foundation is among participants in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, which funds research to develop hygienic toilets that do not require a sewer connection or electricity and cost less than five cents per user per day.

This year’s fair is co-hosted by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The event will highlight creative approaches to develop affordable and sustainable sanitation solutions.

The Climate Foundation biochar reactor provides an innovative approach to managing human solid waste that can eliminate the need for power, water or sewers , while being financially sustainable. It can process the waste of thousands of people per day, while converting it to Biochar - biological charcoal - that can be used as a soil amendment and potential fuel source.

Team Developing Biochar Reactor
Dr. Brian von Herzen, director of the Climate Foundation, says “We are working with an international team of experts on the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Together we’re working on solving the global sanitation problem by processing human solid waste into biochar-- a pathogen-free and odor-free resource that comprises a valuable agricultural supplement.”

Biochar is created from bio-mass, which is heated at a high temperature in a low-oxygen chamber, creating a high quality charcoal. When mixed with depleted soil, Biochar improves the dirt by holding nutrients and water in the ground. That means that plants need less water, and less fertilizer. It also means that when biochar is added to poor soil, the plants and crops grow far bigger, using less water and less fertilizer.

A key benefit is that when a plant is grown in Biochar, the carbon stays in the ground for up to 1000 years. Normally, a plant absorbs carbon from the air, but then releases the carbon when it dies, according to Dr. von Herzen, Executive Director of The Climate Foundation.

This solution shows significant promise for lean nations, where it could reduce the amount of human born pathogens, reduce cost of growing food, and improve the soil content.

“Improvements in dealing with human waste can reduce diarrheal disease, which is the leading cause of under-5 child deaths and a major factor in the development of a child's mind, body, and immune system,” according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Impatient Optimist blog. Reducing diarrheal disease also increases the absorption and therefore the effectiveness of life-saving vaccines.

Biochar Reactor
The biochar system can process up to 100 kg/human waste/hour, and recaptures the heat condensation for energy-efficient drying. The target cost of the reactor in local production is below $100,000. It could process human waste for less than 5 cents (based on the US dollar) per person per day. Biochar as a agricultural supplement can be sold for $550 per ton.

Hamish Fallside, from The Climate Foundation helped lead the research and development of the reactor for Climate Foundation. Fallside describes how the solution is able to produce its own energy.

“After drying, the human waste is fed into the carbonizer, and heated in a low oxygen environment so it chars the waste instead of combusting it,” Fallside says. “Heat of condensation is recovered for use in the dryer and biochar is extracted for use as an agricultural substrate or as fuel.”

Climate Foundation staff and its key partners have been gathering in India this week to assemble their solution.Other organizations and companies partnering on the solution include:

  • Sanergy has developed an extensive sanitation infrastructure in Nairobi. They are the ‘launching customer’ for the technology, and they’ve worked with Climate Foundation to set up a lab analyzing human waste and producing biochar samples. Sanergy will test the biochar reactor prototype in the second half of 2014. 
  • Cornell University Department of Crop & Soil Sciences program researchers study biochar’s usefulness as a soil amendment around the world. The globally renowned program provides the project with an analytical foundation for the development of the sanitation fertilizer product. 
  • Prasino Group knows how to develop operations, sales, and marketing of biochar. 
  • Tide Technocrats India provides design and manufacturing expertise in Bangalore, India. Leveraging the Climate Foundation’s guidance on manufacturing and waste processing technologies, Tide Technocrats fabricates and integrates the designs made around the world. 
  • Industrial partners: 
    • Agfuel Energy Systems from Aurora, MO, in the United States, has provided the biomass furnace base, which is retrofitted to meet the standards of processing human waste. 
    • ClearStak is an environmental engineering company in Woodstock, Connecticut in the United States, and has retrofitted the biochar reactor. T
    • Thermal Energy International in Ottawa, Canada has designed the energy efficient biomass dryer to dry human waste. T
    • Triopac, based in Montreal, Canada has worked on the manufacturing of the biomass dryer 

Fallside says the “The system is a valuable addition to the sanitation chain because it can easily be transported to a remote area, processing the waste of thousands of people per day from day one. All components support easy maintenance and affordability.”

Climate Foundation is also receiving an $85,000 grant from NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation 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, generate their own energy as a byproduct, and are easily transportable by shipping container to possible future village sites being planned in response to the impacts of climate change on Kivalina.”

Additional Resources

Climate Foundation Website
NAFTA's Climate Fdn. Commission for Environmental Cooperation Grant
Impatient Optimist Blog for Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology
UNICEF: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

Climate Foundation

Contact: Dr. Brian von Herzen
Address: 3 Little Harbor RD, Woods Hole, MA  02543