Loowatt – the waterless toilet system

The Loowatt system creates a low-cost and simple solution for waterless sanitation that converts human waste into biogas. We have built and tested a working system in London and see great potential for our toilets to make a difference in the developing world. The key benefits of Loowatt are that it’s easy to use, low-cost, clean and not at all smelly. Along with this, it creates a local supply of biogas.

In July 2011, the Loowatt team spent two weeks in on an intensive study in and around Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, also known as Tana. We’ve outlined some of our observations in a series of photos.

Our objective in Tana was to gather information and explore ways to implement Loowatt systems. We collaborated with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), a partnership between NGOs, the private sector, and academia, which engages with local governments and has been working in Tana for several years.  They take a systems-based, market-driven approach to implementing sanitation solutions which was critical in exploring our key topics, including, household costs related to sanitation, energy use, and consumer aspirations. While much of this information is available in existing studies from WSUP, much is new, and all is understood more deeply through first hand investigation and discussions.

We conducted research in the urban center (a.k.a. CUA), the peri-urban area (a.k.a. FIFTAMA), and Ikibo, a rural village 25 miles from the city. In Ikibo, we were hosted by the Madagascar Development Fund, which has transformed the village by providing safe drinking water and creating local enterprise. Everywhere we went, we met with stakeholders in government, NGOs, commercial entities, local academics, enterprises, manufacturers, households, and more.

In Tana there is an urgent need for better sanitation. 75% of city center residents, and 95% of the peri-urban ones rely on dry pit latrines. The entire urban area is without any formal disposal system for fecal sludge. 98% of latrines are emptied by informal service providers or private companies, with no regulation on where fecal sludge is discarded.  We witnessed first hand the dumping of untreated human waste into local watercourses. The city’s current sanitation system remains decentralized.

The Loowatt System fits this situation perfectly, as it provides safe sanitation without the need for central infrastructure, and at the same time delivers valuable biogas and fertilizer. A key task for Loowatt is to understand how value is generated by our system, also taking into account any negative impacts. This will help us to build robust scenarios for the system, which are economically self-sustaining and offer real incentives for adoption.

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One response to “Loowatt – the waterless toilet system

  1. LooWatt is one of several bucket-to-biogas programs funded by the Gates Foundation. Isn’t Tana where WSUP is already piloting its bucket-collection system using urine-diverting Torp Isak toilets from Sweden? Not sure. Last year, the woman who designed the Loo Watt concept told an audience she had purchased the biogas digester and was about to try using it. Those of us in the audience who recall the biogas digester programs successes and failures of the past decades discussed how this might roll out. It is very possible water will have to be added to the feces to achieve anaerobiosis for methane production.

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