Tag Archives: Waste Enterprisers

Don’t think of treatment plants: building factories to meet the sanitation SDGs

Rwanda  - Pivot fecal sludge treatment 1

Pivot Works factory in Kigali, Rwanda. From left to right: Fecal sludge receiving tank, flocculation tanks, mechanical dewatering machine. Photo: Ashley Muspratt

4,900 days from now, in 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals will expire.  If that feels like a long time, consider the work ahead.  And by work, I dare not attempt to wrap my head around all 17 goals; I refer specifically to the WASH goal – SDG #6 – and even more specifically to the sanitation targets.

From my admittedly invested perch – I run a sanitation company – the most exciting thing about transitioning from the MDGs to the SDGs is the belated inclusion of treatment.  There’s finally recognition that “improved sanitation” without treatment is not improved sanitation.  The WASH community’s new mandate: “halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally” (SDG 6.3).  But consider that the urban population still requiring “safely managed sanitation” today stands at 3.214 billion [1]. Serving them entails expanding safe management, i.e., some form of treatment, to 625,000 people each day for the next 4,900 days.  That’s basically a city a day.

How can we achieve such a massive expansion of safe fecal sludge and wastewater management?  For starters, let’s stop building treatment plants. Heresy? There’s a better way.

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US-Ghana team gets Gates Foundation grant to transform human waste into energy

A US-Ghanaian team has been awarded US$ 1.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a biorefinery that will convert fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane.

Prof. Kartik Chandran. Photo: Columbia University

Kartik Chandran, an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia Engineering is leading the team that includes Ashley Murray, founder and director of Waste Enterprisers, and Moses Mensah, a Chemical Engineering professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Chandran may involve the Columbia University Engineers without Borders Ghana team, for whom he acts as faculty advisor, as well.

Chandran and his team aim to develop a bioprocess technology to convert the organic compounds present in fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane, two potent sources of energy, and thus convert a waste-processing facility into a biorefinery. The biorefinery will not only be an economical source of fuel, but, by minimizing discharge of fecal sludge into local water bodies, it will also contribute to improved human health and sanitation. Chandran says that potential outcomes of his work will also include integrating the bioprocess technology component into a social enterprise business model that will further promote widespread implementation of this approach and technology across the globe, especially in developing economies.

Earlier Waste Enterprisers conducted an exploratory study, funded by the Gates Foundation, to identify promising fecal sludge reuse and management options for  Greater Accra, Ghana. Their study incorporated  detailed analyses of emerging energy-related reuse options. Waste Enterprisers is one of the partners in a European Water Initiative ERA-NET – SPLASH project on “Faecal Management Enterprises (FaME)” in Ghana, Senegal, and Uganda. One of project activities is to demonstrate the technical and financial viability of using faecal sludge as a fuel in cement manufacturing (and other industrial processes).

Dr. Ashley Murray, founder Waste Enterprisers, Ghana and a 2011 recipient of a National Geographic's Emerging Explorers Program award. Photo: Matthew Muspratt

Since about two years the Gates Foundation has shifted its focus from water and hygiene to sanitation. While the Foundation continues to provide limited funding to promising clean water and hygiene solutions, its main grantmaking will go to three areas: ending open defecation; investment in sanitation tools and technologies; and policy and advocacy.

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Source: Columbia University, 01 Jun 2011