BEIJING, China — An extensive effort to help solve global sanitation concerns is catapulting a team of USF engineers onto the world stage. They designed and built a solar-powered machine that generates nutrients, energy and water by safely recovering them from human wastewater.
As part of a $1.14 million grant awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through its Reinvented Toilet program, the NEWgenerator is currently in operation in Durban, South Africa, succeeding a 2016 field test in India. Worldwide, rapid, unplanned urbanization strains water, power and sewer systems. The NEWgenerator aims to ease that pressure on infrastructure by operating off the grid to complement sanitation facilities. Each unit is capable of serving 100 people per day.
For an innovation to have true global impact, it needs to be brought to scale by working with commercial partners for technology transfer. There are a number of patents pending for the NEWgenerator. These technologies have recently been licensed to a sanitation company in India, and a USF-affiliate startup company, BioReNEW, inc., was also launched.
Due to its success, the Gates Foundation selected USF’s NEWgenerator to be showcased at this week’s Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing, China, attended by key partners worldwide. Since the Reinvented Toilet Challenge launched in 2011, many international institutions and corporations have been awarded grants. However, only a small fraction are invited to the expo this week due to product maturity. The expo is dedicated to attracting customers in industry and government to accelerate commercialization. In Beijing, the NEWgenerator team will be seeking strategic partners with the goal of scaling the technology across the globe to assist communities in need.
“In addition to partners who can help us scale the NEWgenerator for use in crowded, dense urban settings, we are also keen to connect with the humanitarian and emergency sectors,” said lead investigator Daniel Yeh, PhD, associate professor at the University of South Florida College of Engineering. “Some of the same challenges we see across the globe are found also in the U.S, especially after disasters. We would like to do something about that.”
The NEWgenerator uses a multistage disinfection process. A fine-pore microscopic membrane filter traps bacteria and viruses.Clean water that passes through is then disinfected with chlorine, similar to municipal drinking water. The recycled water can be used for toilet flushing in the sanitation facilities, thereby drastically cutting down on water demand, especially during times of drought. The water can also be used for irrigation.
The NEWgenerator exhibited in Beijing will return to the University of South Florida Tampa campus for demonstration and education. Yeh and his team have in their technology pipeline an even more advanced technology, allowing for it to handle 1000 people per day.
Watch a video chronicling the NEWgenerator team’s journey since 2015, through field tests in India and South Africa.