No, it's not a magic trick, unless you consider brilliant engineering a form of magic: The team at Washington-based firm Janicki Industries has designed a machine, dubbed the Omniprocessor, that converts human feces into drinking water and electricity.
As avid social entrepreneur (and America's richest man) Bill Gates shared on his blog yesterday, at least two billion people around the world use latrines without proper drainage waste disposal. What happens next is, without exaggeration, catastrophic. Feces make their way into the drinking water supply and cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands; some 700,000 children die from illnesses related to poor sanitation each year. Many developing countries don't have the infrastructure to support sophisticated sewage networks. This is where the Omniprocessor — which Gates' foundation is helping to fund — comes in.
The machine converts sewer sludge to drinking water, electricity, and pathogen-free ash by boiling the sludge to extract water vapor, which then undergoes rigorous purification. The dry, solid sludge that remains is fed into a fire to create steam, which is sent into a steam engine that in turn powers a generator that creates electricity to power the processor (with electricity left for the local community to use). Watch the surprisingly elegant process in the video above (and see Gates sample a glass of water that was poop five minutes before). Janicki is preparing to set up an Omniprocessor pilot project in Dakar, Senegal later this year. If all goes well, "poop water" could one day become a standard solution to a serious heath threat.