AgFuel Energy Systems Furnaces to Be Used in Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Challenge
March 24, 2014
Columbia, Missouri – Two AgFuel Energy Systems biomass furnaces have been purchased by the Climate Foundation, one of several research groups commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to participate in its Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The systems will be used to convert human waste to heat and energy and produce biochar, a byproduct of the conversion that can be used as soil amendment.
In 2011, the Gates Foundation launched the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to develop toilets without connections to sewer, electrical or water systems, and 16 of those prototypes were demonstrated at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India on March 22. The fair also featured other products and approaches that aim to bring safe sanitation to those who need it most. These include efforts to: improve the collection, treatment and disposal of human waste; address behavior change; and raise awareness of this critical issue for governments, stakeholders and local communities.
According to the Gates Foundation, there are 2.5 billion people in the world without adequate sanitation, which contributes to 2.2 million deaths each year. Most of these occur in undeveloped countries where the resources to build and maintain sewer infrastructure are scarce, as is the water required to operate them. In an effort to enable universal access to sustainable sanitation, the foundation has challenged innovators and funded research to develop waterless, hygienic toilets that do not require a sewer connection or electricity and are financially sustainable.
The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Fair was a global event, with exhibiting teams representing 15 nations and general participants representing 42 nations. The fair coincided, appropriately enough, with World Water Day on March 22.
Along with the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in India, the AgFuel furnaces have three field trials scheduled in Africa in August. “I am excited to be a part of the demonstration and the innovation that has the potential to mitigate sanitation problems in impoverished regions of the world,” says Dustin Dover, AgFuel Energy Systems director of operations. “I’m also looking forward to exploring the opportunities the technology presents for AgFuel closer to home.”
“Partnering with the Climate Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allows us to explore Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technology while helping to resolve the problem with human waste,” explains Dover. “ClearStak, LLC, the company that manufactures the electric components for AgFuel furnaces, has modified these systems to burn human waste for this challenge. The result is a unique system that not only produces heat, but power, too.”
“This could have important implications here in the U.S.,” Dover continues. “When we experience power outages, such as those that occur during storms, facilities using CHP systems would have heat and electricity, both from a single system. In the U.S., they would be fueled by renewable biomass, such as wood or miscanthus pellets.”
In addition to heat and power, the furnaces convert waste and other biomass to produce biochar, another valuable resource. Biochar can be used as an amendment to improve soil quality, reduce soil emissions of greenhouse gases and attract and retain water. It has the potential to help transform infertile land into productive soil.