Sanitation is about where people go to the bathroom and what happens to their waste. Facilities include toilets, sewers and wastewater treatment plants as well as more simple technologies such as latrines and septic tanks. Unfortunately, sanitation continues to remain one of the key health issues in the developing world where 2.5 billion people – over a third of the world’s population – lacks access to adequate sanitation facilities, creating disease and keeping child mortality high.
But there is a solution and it is happening. Welcome to the new world of sustainable energy, where developing countries are taking the lead by turning their sanitation problems into an asset. The Bugesera prison inmates, leaders of Rwanda’s genocide, are unlikely sustainable business pioneers, yet they are! Their human waste is being turned into energy that runs the prison. It’s an idea that came up after the genocide, when the prisons got crowded. Now Rwanda’s government plans to expand human-waste energy to schools and hospitals.
In India, bio-gas kits from companies such as Biotech India allow families to collect their human and animal waste and transform it into energy and cooking gas. In Accra, the US-Ghanaian company Waste Enterprisers has just inaugurated its first human-waste energy plant, while in China, a group called the Shaanxi Mothers has installed more than 1,300 bio-gas plants in Shaanxi Province. Human waste, it seems, is an ideal source of energy. It has the right constituents and in the form required.
Poor people can produce more than 50% of their energy needs from their waste. Turning human waste into energy is a good solution even if it doesn’t generate an income as a fuel. It still helps to prevent diseases; treating diseases costs a lot of money. However, it is expensive and the plants are difficult to maintain. Plus, there’s the yuck factor. All that said and done, with greater cost-efficiency, human-waste energy is poised to become a serious player. The main problem is that the human body simply produces too little; even when combined with animal waste, the amount of human waste doesn’t compare to the world’s oil resources.
For countries with high education levels and substandard sanitation infrastructure, loo power could be a huge opportunity. Countries like Brazil, China, India, South Africa and even less developed places in Europe could turn their sanitation disadvantage to a commercial advantage. The assets of loo power have big potential: reducing health issues and most of all, helping to save the planet.
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