University Students Win Contest To Bring Sanitation, Electricity To Indian Villagers
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Americans and other developed nations around the world have taken sanitation and electricity for granted for more than 100 years. Yet, many underdeveloped countries, such as India, still do not have either and live under kerosene power and are forced to defecate outdoors.
Now, a new campaign, called the Humanure Power Project, is looking to change all that. The HPP, an innovative social venture founded and run by six Tulane University students, aims to alleviate both issues by connecting existing and proven technologies. The students are hoping HPP will transform the way rural villagers in India dispose of human waste and power their homes.
The Tulane students were a finalist in Dell’s 2012 Social Innovation Challenge, winning $30,000 for their concept, helping them turn the project into a reality. The team has now been working in India building blocks of public toilets in the village of Sukhpur, located in the Supaul district in the Indian state of Bihar.
The Humanure toilet converts human waste into methane to charge 12-volt batteries, addressing two issues in one go: offering access to more sanitary living conditions, and offering more affordable sources of electricity. The waste is collected in a biogas generator where the methane is converted to electricity.
The charged batteries will provide a portable power source that residents can rent for a small monthly fee. Using the 12-volt batteries to power their homes will allow villagers to defray some of the 15 percent of their annual income that currently goes to buying kerosene.
More than 11 million people in Bihar alone go without access to toilets, and only 15 percent of households in the district of Supaul have access to proper sanitation. Out of the 1.7 million residents of Supaul, only 1.2 percent of them have electricity.
Once the power is generated it must be distributed, and since power lines do not exist in the village of Sukhpur, electricity must be made ‘portable.’ These portable batteries can be returned when they run dry and new ones can be picked up. Battery rentals will operate on a monthly membership program.
While the toilet blocks are being constructed, cow manure will be used as a substitute for human waste.
Once the toilet block is complete and a consistent supply of methane gas from human waste is being produced, HPP will create a link between the toilets and the batteries. The team hopes to incentivize toilet use to the community by stating that the more they use it, the more electricity the community will have. Another incentive will be the close proximity of the toilets — villagers will no longer have to walk long distances to relieve themselves.
Not only will the HPP system offer a much cheaper and healthier alternative to current standards, it will also create business opportunities in the community.
The Humanure Power Project came to light through the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, which every year helps to turn student social ventures into viable organizations that address the world’s most challenging social issues. The program entices students to dream up novel ideas, and then funds those ideas so they can be tested, improved upon, and launched into reality.
The Dell program has helped launch dozens of student-run social ventures since it was started in 2007.