Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates has turned his attention to the WC, years after he reinvented computers and made PCs a household item.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pledging millions of dollars in grants to spur innovators to reinvent the toilet, Frank Rijsberman, director of water, sanitation and hygiene programs for the Gates Foundation told AFP.
The aim is to boost health in developing countries by giving the 2.6 billion people who don't have access to a WC or have to share one, a hygienic, safe place to go to the toilet, said Rijsberman, speaking from a pan-African conference on sanitation being held in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
But the Gates Foundation wants to get away from the toilet as it's known in the West -- the flush WC that uses several liters of water to wash waste down into the sewer system -- because it's not a viable solution for poor countries.
"We need to reinvent the toilet. We need to come up with new technology that doesn't put waste into drinking water, doesn't flush it down a very expensive pipe to a waste water treatment plant where we spend lots of money to remove the poop," Rijsberman said.
To spur the reinvention of the WC, the Gates Foundation at the AfricaSan conference in Kigali announced $42 million in grants to spur innovation in the capture and storage of waste, and to develop ways to process what Rijsberman calls "poop" into reusable energy and fertilizer.
"We have to learn to not think of poop as a nuisance and waste but as a resource that could be recycled at a cost of a few cents a day," Rijsberman said.
The Gates Foundation hopes its investment in sanitation innovation will produce several prototypes within a year, and that the new breed of toilet could hit markets in the developing world in around three years, he said.