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Prototype Off-Grid Sanitation System Debuts in India

A Photo Essay

In India alone, diarrheal disease is estimated to kill one child nearly every minute—a symptom of having almost 600 million people resort to open defecation every day. Worldwide, that number is 2.5 billion.

For the past several years, researchers at Duke University have been working with RTI International and Colorado State University in an attempt to “reinvent the toilet” to help solve the world’s sanitation crisis. And that’s not their language; the phrase was coined by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which launched the program that funds 13 separate projects worldwide in 2012.

Duke’s part in the project, led by Jeff Glass, professor of electrical and computer engineering, focuses on the basic science required to develop efficient disinfection techniques for the liquid waste. The end goal is a self-contained, zero-energy-, zero-water-use system that can bring safe, affordable sanitation to those who need it, while introducing a sustainable energy technology. 

The project recently reached a milestone with the opening of the first test facility at the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University (CEPT University) in Ahmedabad, India.

"CEPT University is an excellent location for our next phase of user design and feedback studies, and a good platform for performance testing under controlled conditions," said Myles Elledge, senior director for global development and strategy at RTI. "CEPT's expertise in architecture, building science and urban environmental planning makes the campus a great host and research collaborator for our next round of prototype development in India." 

Below are photos taken from the ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 19, 2015. Learn more about the project at 

A crowd gathers outside of the building housing the first RTI International/Duke University/Colorado State University prototype sewage disposal and sanitation system.

President of CEPT University, Dr. Bimal Patel (left) and Myles Elledge (right), senior director for global development and strategy at RTI cut the ribbon to open the sanitation system prototype for business. The solution’s approach uses electrochemical disinfection for liquid waste processing and recovery, and biomass energy conversion to process solid waste.CEPT University is a partner in the current phase of the project, during which the prototype toilet will be performance-tested and design feedback gathered from user groups on the CEPT campus.The guts of the system that converts solid waste into energy. The system’s goal is to be energy-neutral, requiring no external sources of power or linkage to piped sewerage systems.An interior look at the prototype sanitation system. A new human waste system could significantly impact the livelihood of the more than 2.5 billion people worldwide who do not have access to safe and effective sanitation. In India, 597 million people in India resort to open defecation every day, and diarrheal disease is estimated to kill one child nearly every minute.