At the 229th ECS Meeting in San Diego, we had the opportunity to gather the grantees from our Science for Solving Society’s Problems challenge, done in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nine grantees came to the table to discuss how ECS facilitated an unprecedented program leading to ground-breaking collaboration and real scientific advancements, while creating a funding opportunity which has helped contribute to planet sustainability.

Listen as these esteemed researchers discuss the global water and sanitation crisis and how electrochemical and solid state science could begin to solve these pressing issues. Today you’ll hear from Plamen Atanassov, University of New Mexico; Luis Godinez, CIDETEQ; Gemma Reguera, Michigan State University; Juan Pablo Esquivel and Erik Kjeang, CSIC and Simon Fraser University; Jorg Kretzschmar (on behalf of Falk Harnisch), Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research; Gerardine Botte, Ohio University; Eric Wachsman, University of Maryland; Carl Hensman, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation representative, and our host E. Jennings Taylor.

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Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been fighting the good fight on many fronts over the years, including poverty, women’s equality, and of course, energy.

In their 2016 annual letter, the private foundation looked at the issue of access to energy. According to Bill Gates, 1.3 billion people – or 18 percent of the world’s population – live without electricity to light their homes.

Energy crisis

Many energy trouble areas exist in sub-Saharan Africa, where 7 out of 10 people live in the dark. The same problems exist in parts of Asia and India where more than 300 million people lack access to electricity.

(MORE: Take a look at the work that ECS has done with the Gates Foundation to tackle critical issues in water and sanitation.)

There are still many parts of the world that have yet to reap the benefits of Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb.

But it’s not just about light. Energy allows better medical care through functioning hospitals, greater educational efforts through functioning schools, and even more food through the powering of agricultural devices.

Renewable energy revolution

Not only is the provision of energy to all people essential, but the research into finding a clean, efficient way to do so is also crucial. ECS members and scientists across the globe are currently making effort to combat climate change, which is consequentially poised to hit the world’s poor the hardest.


Update: Making Poop Potable (Video)

gates-singalIn early January, we talked about Bill Gates’ initiative to make poop potable. As part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s mission to improve sanitation in underdeveloped countries, the business magnate and philanthropist took a sip of water that had been human waste just moments before.

The waste was being filtered through a treatment plant called the OmniProcessor. The plant was designed a part of the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Along with being able to make wastewater drinkable, the plant also produce usable electricity.

A Test Run in Africa

Now, the OminProcessor is going from its testing stages to real world application. The plant has taken its first trip to Dakar, Senegal, and while the technology is working, the real world is proving to pose some other challenges.


The Excrevator will help put an end to emptying pit latrines by hand.Image: NC State University

The Excrevator will help put an end to emptying pit latrines by hand.
Image: NC State University

Critical technology gaps in water, sanitation, and hygiene are being faced all over the world. According to UNICEF, 2.5 billion people—36 percent of the world’s population—don’t have access to a toilet. Due to this, many people in the developing world either practice open defecation or utilize pit latrines. In turn, this leads to a high risk of contracting diseases ranging from typhoid to hepatitis.

Tate Rogers, an engineering student from North Carolina State University, decided that something has to be done about this. In 2011, Rogers began developing a device that would help those in the developing world more safely deal with raw sewage.

It’s four years later, and the project is still under way—but it’s beginning to come to fruition.


Professor Chunlei Guo has developed a technique that uses lasers to render materials hydrophobic, illustrated in this image of a water droplet bouncing off a treated sample.Photo: J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

Professor Chunlei Guo has developed a technique that uses lasers to render materials hydrophobic, illustrated in this image of a water droplet bouncing off a treated sample.
Photo: J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

New super-hydrophobic metals developed at the University of Rochester could mean big things for solar innovation and sanitation initiatives.

The researchers, led by Professor Chunlei Guo, have developed a technique that uses lasers to render materials extremely water repellant, thus resulting in rust-free metals.

Professor Guo’s research in novel not in the sense that he and his team are creating water resistant materials, instead they are creating a new way to develop these super-hydrophobic materials by taking away reliance on chemical coatings and shifting to laser technology.


Making Poop Potable

The OmniProcessor is the ultimate example of that old expression: one man's trash is another man's treasure.Image: YouTube/Gates Notes

The OmniProcessor is the ultimate example of that old expression: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Image: YouTube/Gates Notes

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working to turn poop into drinking water with this ingenious new machine.

As part of their effort to improve sanitation in poor countries, the Gates Foundation has helped give flight to an OmniProcessor that burns human waste to produce water and electricity.

How does it work? Check out the video to see the process.

But here’s the big question – why do we need to turn waste into drinking water and electricity?


Everybody Poops

WorldToiletDayHere at The Electrochemical Society, we give a crap about sanitation. With our recent partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – which awarded $210,000 in seed funding to innovative research projects addressing critical gaps in water and sanitation – we’ve spent a great deal of time these past few months talking about poop.  We plan to keep that trend alive, which brings us to World Toilet Day.

Two and a half billion people – 36 percent of the world’s population – don’t have access to a toilet, according to UNICEF. Globally, more people have mobile phones than toilets. Most people in developed countries think of access to adequate sanitation as a right rather than a privilege.

For this reason, ECS hosted the Electrochemical Energy and Water Summit, where some of the brightest minds in electrochemical and solid state science came together to brainstorm innovative ways to address the global sanitation crisis. We’re not just flushing and forgetting, we’re attempting to make adequate sanitation a basic human right.



Over 100 researchers were guided through a brainstorming and working group session with the theme of improving access to clean water and sanitation in developing countries.

ECS is awarding $210,000 of seed funding to four innovative research projects addressing critical technology gaps in water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges being faced around the world.

Winners of the first Science for Solving Society’s Problems Challenge:

Artificial Biofilms for Sanitary/Hygienic Interface Technologies (A-Bio SHIT)
Plamen Atanassov, University of New Mexico, $70,000
Interfaces: Produce bio-catalytic septic cleaning materials that incorporate microorganisms removing organic and inorganic contaminants, while simultaneously creating electricity (or hydrocarbon fuel) for energy generation in support of a sustainable and portable system.

In-situ Electrochemical Generation of the Fenton Reagent for Wastewater Treatment
Luis Godinez, Centro de Investigacion y Desarrollo Tecnologico en Electroquimica SC, Mexico, $50,000
Disinfection: Study the electro-Fenton approach using activated carbon to efficiently oxidize most of the organic and biological materials present in sanitary wastewater so that recycling of the wastewater might be possible.

Neus Sabate, Institut de Microelectrónica de Barcelona (CSIC); Juan Pablo Esquivel, University of Washington; Erik Kjeang, Simon Fraser University, $50,000
Monitoring and Measurement: Develop a non-toxic portable source of power for water measuring and monitoring systems, which will not require recycling facilities. Using inexpensive materials such as paper, nanoporous carbon electrodes and organic redox species, the team will strive to create a biodegradable and even compostable power source.

More than MERe microbes: Microbial Electrochemical Reactors for water reuse in Africa
Gemma Reguera, Michigan State University, $40,000
Chemical Conversion: Develop microbial electrochemical reactors that harvest energy from human waste substrates using bioanodes engineered to process the waste into biofuels while simultaneously cleaning water for reuse. The microbial catalysts will be selected for their efficiency at processing the wastes, but also for their versatility to process other residential and agricultural waste substrates. This will provide an affordable, easy to operate system for the decentralized processing of a wide range of wastes for improved sanitation, water reuse, and energy independence.


2014 ECS/SMEQ Meeting in the Books

Edison Theatre

“Pee to Energy” demo at the Edison Theatre in the exhibit hall in Cancun, Mexico. Rob Gerth, Gerri Botte, and Madhi Muthuvel getting ready to go.

I’m working on an official review of what happened at the meeting. In the meantime, I’ve been looking at some of the photos which got me thinking about the adventure that is an ECS meeting.

A couple of quick hits first:


Harvard students test the flow rate from one of the newly installed tap stands.Credit: Christopher Lombardo

Harvard students test the flow rate from one of the newly installed tap stands.
Credit: Christopher Lombardo

A group of students from Harvard have been working to help restore clean water to the rural town of Pinalito in the Dominican Republic. Now, for the first time in a long time, the water in Pinalito is clean again.

This from Harvard Gazette:

For the past 2½ years, students in the Harvard University chapter of Engineers Without Borders have been rehabilitating and improving a potable water system in the rural town in the Dominican Republic. After the most recent visit, the students returned to campus in late August having successfully worked with the community to upgrade the water quality and distribution system.

Read the full article here.

The residents now have clean water – something that wasn’t available prior due to the failed well built by a government contractor. The well installed by the Harvard students can produce 27 gallons a minute, according to Christopher Lombardo – assistant director for undergraduate studies in engineering sciences at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

During their time in Pinalito, the students made sure to integrate the community into the design and building of the well in order to combat skepticism and foster relationships.

Not only does this experience provide the rural town with clean water, but it also shows the students that there are many other perspective they’ll need to consider when they go further in the field of engineering, and they won’t always have access to a state-of-the-art lab.

At ECS, we’re also joining the fight to provide clean water though innovation and research to those in need. We are in Cancun right now working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to find and fund new research to combat some of the world’s most serious water and sanitation issues.

Stay connected with us to see the grant winners and their solutions to bridge the critical technology gaps in water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges being faced around the world.

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