Omni Processor is a name proposed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a group of physical, biological or chemical treatment processes to process fecal sludge – a mixture of human excreta and water – in developing countries. One of the main treatment aims is pathogen removal to stop the spread of disease from fecal sludge. The term was created by staff of the Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012. It is not a trade mark for one specific product or technology. Several research teams are currently developing various types of omni processors with funding from the foundation. Examples of technologies which Omni Processors may employ include combustion, supercritical water oxidation and pyrolysis.
The term "omni" in its name refers to the fact that an Omni Processor machine can process a variety of waste streams or fuel sources.
Background and aims
Since 2012, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been funding research into what they have named "Omni Processors". An Omni Processor (OP) is any of various types of technologies that treat fecal sludge, also known as septage. The aim of the treatment is to remove all pathogens and at the same time to generate outputs of commercial value. These beneficial products can be energy and soil nutrients and might have the potential to allow a development of local business and revenue. The soil nutrients could be used as a form of reuse of excreta in agriculture. The Omni Processor program targets community scale solutions that may combine fecal sludge and solid waste processing. It complements the foundation's pit latrine emptying ("Omni-Ingestor") and "Reinvent the Toilet" investment programs.
The Omni Processor is targeted as a solution for developing countries, although challenges around technical and financial aspects remain. Omni Processors and Omni Ingestors are being designed to provide an alternative to sewerage system-based technologies. They are also intended to address the large number of existing pit latrines which lack a supporting infrastructure of fecal sludge collection and processing when the pits are full. Sludge from pit latrines has to be removed from the pits for treatment and disposal either by pumping (if the fecal sludge is sufficiently liquid) or by manual emptying with shovels or other devices (in India, this practice is called manual scavenging). Despite new low-cost pumps being developed, only a small fraction of sludge is safely extracted and treated currently in many African and Asian cities.
It will be necessary to adapt established technologies in ways to fit developing world communities. The success of such technologies will depend on how well the process is managed.
The U.S.-based company Janicki Bioenergy presented in 2014 a prototype using combustion. Their process is a sewage sludge treatment system that produces drinking water and electrical energy as end products from sewage sludge. Manufactured by Janicki Bioenergy, the proof of concept model was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The S100 prototype model can produce 10,800 liters of drinking water per day and 100 kW net electricity. A larger model under development, the S200, is designed to handle the waste from 100,000 people, produce 86,000 litres of drinking water per day and 250 kW net output electricity. These systems are designed to provide a "self-sustaining bioenergy" process.
The treatment process first involves boiling the sewage sludge, during which water vapour is boiled off and recovered. A dry sludge is left behind which is then combusted as fuel to heat a boiler. This boiler produces steam and the heat necessary for the boiling process. The steam is then used to generate electrical energy. Some of this electrical energy is used for the final water reverse osmosis purification stages to produce safe drinking water, and to power ancillary pumps, fans and motors.
A pilot project of Janicki Bioenergy's Omniprocessor was installed in Dakar, Senegal, in 2015 and can now treat the fecal sludge of 50,000-100,000 people.
The U.S.-based NGO Climate Foundation, in collaboration with Stanford University, has built several pilot-scale reactors to treat human waste and turn it into biochar, which can be used as an agricultural soil amendment.
Scientists at Duke University in the U.S. have developed and are testing a prototype fecal sludge treatment unit that fits in a 20-foot shipping container and treats the fecal matter of roughly 1000 people using supercritical water oxidation.
Related research efforts
The Omni Processor initiative for processing fecal sludge is being complemented by an effort to develop new technologies for improved pit latrine emptying (called by the Gates Foundation the “Omni Ingestor”) and by the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The latter is a long-term research and development effort to develop a hygienic, stand-alone toilet. It is focused on "reinventing the flush toilet". The aim is to create a toilet that not only removes pathogens from human excreta, but also recovers resources such as energy, clean water, and nutrients (a concept also known as reuse of excreta). It should operate “off the grid” without connections to water, sewer, or electrical networks. Finally, it should cost less than 5 US-cents per user per day.
Society and culture
In a publicity stunt in late 2014, Bill Gates drank the water produced from Janicki Bioenergy's Omni Processor system, causing widespread media attention. In early 2015, Gates appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and challenged Fallon to see if he could taste the difference between water from this particular "Omni Processor" or bottled water.
- Kuchenrither, R. D., Stone, L., Haug, R. T. (2012). Omni-Processor Landscaping Project. Consultancy report by WERF (Water Environment Research Foundation), commissioned by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle, USA
- "Gates drinks water made from faeces – and so do you!". WaterAid UK. Rémi Kaupp. 9 January 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- "The Missing Link in Sanitation Service Delivery, A Review of Fecal Sludge Management in 12 Cities" (PDF). WSP. April 2014.
- "Omni Processor - S100". Janicki Bioenergy. Archived from the original on 9 January 2015. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
- "BBC news article "Bill Gates drinks water distilled from human faeces"". Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "From poop to portable, This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water". gatesnotes, The Blog of Bill Gates. 5 January 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- "The firms turning poo into profit". BBC News Business Section. 16 November 2016. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- "Conversion of human waste into biochar using pyrolysis at a community-scale facility in Kenya - Various documents on results from research grant". www.susana.org. Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (library). 2014. Retrieved 2015-06-26.
- Deshusses, M. (2013). Neighborhood-scale treatment of fecal sludge by supercritical oxidation - Various documents on results from research grant. Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
- "Oya project - community waste treatment". Unilever, UK. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
- Frederick, R., Gurski, T. (2012). Synapse Dewatering Investigation Report - Omni-Ingestor Phase 2, Milestone 1. Consultancy report by Synapse (USA) commissioned by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle, USA
- Radke, N., Spuhler, D. (2013) Brief overview of conditions for water, sanitation and hygiene grants by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- "Bill Gates and Jimmy Drink Poop Water". Youtube Channel of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. 22 January 2015.