Today’s Solutions: December 08, 2023

At The Optimist Daily, we keep our ears keened for news about upcycling. It’s an impressive hack, making productive use of discarded materials and waste, turning what was trash into something new. It’s a great solution toward making sustainable products, and we’re always looking for creative upcycling. 

That being said, some instances of upcycling might raise an eyebrow… or a nostril.

Some innovators have repurposed the waste we flush down the toilet, and what they’ve done may make you rethink the potential of your potty time. 

Turning poop into fuel 

The Kenyan capital of Nairobi has become so crowded in some places that people don’t have access to toilets and have been throwing their waste in bags on the streets and roads. Wood is also the most readily available energy resource, and rampant deforestation has become a problem. This is where the startup Sanivation came in, tackling both issues at once. 

They provided Kenyans with portable toilets to collect their poop, then they took the “donations” to their processing plant where they heated and combined them with sawdust and agricultural refuse to create burnable briquettes. After four months, Sanivation sold 50 tons of these “poop logs,” and there’s no shortage of material to make more. 

Plant superfood

Ajay Singh from the University of Waterloo in Ontario noticed a lot of trucks carrying poop around his city just to be incinerated or dumped into landfills, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Not wanting the abundant nutrients in poop to go to waste, Singh and a colleague developed a specialized blender to separate the good parts of human waste from the harmful bacteria. The result was something like a smoothie that they designed for plants as an ultra-fertilizer called Lystegro, a staple product for their company Lystek

Making methane from poop into fuel

DC Water, a wastewater plant collects poop and puts it through a complex process of super-cooking, pressurizing, and then introducing it to microbes which then eat it and “burp” out methane. DC Water then uses this methane as a clean fuel to power their turbines. “There’s no such thing as waste, just wasted resources,” says Christopher Peot, DC Water’s director of resource recovery.

Making fertilizer for your crops and gas for your stove

Israeli company HomeBiogas makes affordable biodigesters that be attached to home pump toilets and “digest” waste into methane and fertilizer. The methane is transported via tubes to the home stove, and the fertilizer accumulates in a container and can be used for one’s plants. In countries where energy is expensive, these HomeBiogas digestors can offer valuable savings and services. 

Turning poop into gas for your car

Developed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, a complex process called Hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL) uses the same process that turns biomatter into petroleum over millions of years, basically lots of pressure and heat, and turns human waste into car fuel in just 15 minutes. While still being refined, the process could one day enable you to turn yesterday’s breakfast into lunch for your car. 

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