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Southeast Asian scientists look to reinvent the flush toilet

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Beawiharta Beawiharta/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Indonesians use public toilets in a slum area of the capital, Jakarta. The Asian Institute for Technology has received a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to design toilets that could produce electricity or gas and improve sanitation, reducing illnesses and deaths.

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Scientists in Bangkok are about to start work on a new flush toilet especially designed for the urban poor in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Their aim is to create a toilet that will process wastewater in family homes and convert it into gas or electricity, saving families money and protecting them from deadly diseases caused by poor sanitation.

The Bangkok-based Asian Institute for Technology (AIT) is receiving a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the project, part of an estimated $380 million effort by the foundation to tackle sanitation problems in Asia and Africa

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“The [flush] technology that we’ve been using so far is 200 years old already … It hasn’t really been improved at all [since],” Thammarat Koottatep, an environmental engineer and associate professor at AIT, said at the AIT project’s launch Sept. 24. 

The current flush toilet requires a substantial amount of sewage infrastructure, which is expensive to build and run. The technology for re-using and recycling the byproducts of animal waste is already available and used in industry but has not yet been applied to toilets, Thammarat said. 

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