Microsoft founder Bill Gates has awarded substantial funding to three leading global institutes who won Gates' Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The brief was to design toilets that exploit human waste.

Bill Gates speaks during Reinvent the Toilet Fair competition at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation campus in Seattle
Bill Gates speaks during Reinvent the Toilet Fair competition at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation campus in Seattle. (Photo: REUTERS)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Re-Invent the Toilet Challenge aims at better human waste management by making next-gen toilets that will not only provide safe sanitation for 2.5 billion people but also help in transforming human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water.

The challenge was set last year and the winners are the US-based California Institute of Technology, followed by the UK's Loughborough University and Canada's University of Toronto.

The winning designs were showcased at a two-day toilet fair held at the foundation's headquarters in Seattle on the US' west coast, on 14 and 15 August.

The winning design, from CIT, received the £64,000 (approximately) first prize for a solar-powered toilet that also generates hydrogen and electricity. The second design, from the UK, won £38,000 (approximately) for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals and clean water. The University of Toronto won third place and £26,000 for a toilet that sanitises feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water, the foundation said in a statement.

The Reinvent the Toilet Fair saw participants from 29 countries and the winning models will, hopefully, be adopted by nations across the world.

The Toilet Revolution

The larger vision that Bill Gates has in this case is reported to be to improve worldwide sanitation by reinventing the role of toilets; the side-product is expected to lead to economic benefits. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates sanitation issues are held responsible for the death of 1.5 million children every year.

Approximately two-thirds of the world's population still defecates either in latrines or in the open, even though flush toilets have been around for two centuries now. Furthermore, some 80 percent of all human waste goes directly to rivers and streams; this untreated flow leads to the spreading of disease. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes innovative toilets, apart from ensuring basic sanitation and hygiene can lead to the recovery of valuable resources.

"Innovative solutions change people's lives for the better," Gates explained, adding, "If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world's toughest problems."