The Microsoft co-founder and ofttimes richest man in the US set a $100,000 bounty on a toilet that will hope to save the 1.5 million children who die annually from water tainted with fecal matter due to poor sanitation–a figure higher than annual deaths from AIDS and malaria combined. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation held a “Reinvent The Toilet Fair” in Seattle to challenge institutions to build a toilet for the 2.5 billion people worldwide who do not have access to the fancy toilets the first world takes for granted:

“Toilets are extremely important for public health and, when you think of it, even human dignity,” Gates said.

“The flush toilets we use in the wealthy world are irrelevant, impractical and impossible for 40 per cent of the global population, because they often don’t have access to water, and sewers, electricity, and sewage treatment systems.”

And before you think that this is a quaint problem for the first world to solve and bequeath upon its poorer compatriot countries, it would be in everyone’s interest to stop our frivolous waste of precious potable water and stave off an apocalyptic Water War. “It is also something that can help wealthier countries conserve fresh water for other important purposes besides flushing,” Gates said.

The Toilet of the Future’s requirements: it must operate without water, electricity, or a septic system, must run for less than $0.05 per day, must capture or recycle energy, and absolutely not pollute. First prize went to the California Institute of Technology for a solar-powered unit that recycles water and breaks down human waste into hydrogen gas, which are collected in hydrogen fuel cells(!!). The UK’s Longborough University nabbed second place & $60,000 for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. The University of Toronto won third place’s $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces/water waste and recovers resources/clean water.

The foundation expects to field a prototype in three years and invest more than $6 million in the project.

(Photo: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)