'Toilet Of The Future' Sought By Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation, $370 Million At Stake

Nathan Francis

Toilet of the future wanted. Reward --- more than $300 million.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is on a mission to find a new model for the toilet that would reinvent the model for the 2.5 billion people around the world without access to modern sanitation, the Associated Press reported.

The competition to find the toilet of the future has attracted scientists and inventors from across the globe, with models like one using microwave energy to transform human waste into electricity and another that captures urine to use for flushing. Another converts excrement into charcoal that can then be burned for energy.

"We couldn't be happier with the response that we've gotten," Bill Gates said.

The toilet of the future must be able to operate without running water, electricity or a septic system, the competition stipulates. It must also not discharge pollutants and preferably be able to capture energy, all at a cost of less than 5 center per day.

At stake is the more than $370 million the foundation is willing to put up to find the toilet of the future. The foundation held a toilet fair this week to show how much progress has been made in just one year since the search for the toilet of the future was kicked off.

The "Reinvent the Toilet Fair" was held in Seattle and awarded prizes for promising designs. First prize went to a model developed at California Institute of Technology, a solar-powered toilet that generated hydrogen gas and electricity, AFP reported.

"The flush toilets we use in the wealthy world are irrelevant, impractical and impossible for 40 percent of the global population, because they often don't have access to water, and sewers, electricity, and sewage treatment systems," Gates said in a statement.

The search for the toilet of the future comes at an important time for health worldwide. The United Nations estimates that close to half of the hospitalizations in the developing world are caused by unsafe sanitation, and 1.5 million children die each year from diarrheal disease.