Published: November 1, 2017


© University of South Florida

By Megan Treacy

Researchers at the University of South Florida College of Engineering have developed a new technology that will provide developing areas with a source of clean energy, water and fertilizer all from human waste. Called the NEWgenerator, it collects urine and fecal matter and acts as a mini wastewater treatment plant.

The NEWgenerator will be paired with Community Ablution Blocks (CABs) in South Africa. The CABs are shipping container buildings that house toilets, sinks and showers. These buildings are placed in settlements where people don’t have access to plumbing and toilets in their homes, but with populations in these places growing, the sewer lines are having trouble keeping up.

community ablution center

© University of South Florida

When the CABs are connected to the NEWgenerator, there no longer needs to be a connection with the sewer lines; the wastewater is diverted to the generator instead. The unit uses anaerobic digestion to turn the organic material in the waste into biogas. The biogas, along with solar panels, is used to power the NEWgenerator so there is no need for grid electricity.

The unit also disinfects the water through a multistep process. First, it’s passed through a membrane where bacteria and viruses are trapped. The water is then treated with chlorine. The resulting clean water will be used to flush the toilets in the CABs and for irrigation in the community gardens that are scattered throughout these same settlements.

The community gardens will also be recipients of the nitrogen and phosphorus-rich fertilizer that is produced from the waste treatment process. The gardens have a hard time flourishing without fertilizer, so having a continual source on-site will help to provide these communities with fresh food and even a source of income if the residents choose to sell their crops.

The team from USF will begin field testing the NEWgenerator set up in Durban, South Africa next year with funding from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Two units will be connected to CABs and will be able to serve 1,100 people a day.