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July 28, 2011

Solar Portopotty

A scientist from California Institute of Technology developed solar-powered portable toilets for a self-power wastewater treatment solution to some of the sanitation issues of some developing countries. Sunlight powers an electrochemical reaction with human waste in water that generates microbe-killing oxidants and releases hydrogen gas.

Environmental scientist and engineer Michael Hoffmann believes that his “Self-Contained, PV-Powered Domestic Toilet and Wastewater Treatment System” concept, will be beneficial for developing countries, especially in Africa.

Mr. Hoffman received a $400,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build the project. The grant will be used to complete the initial design, development, and testing of the sustainable system.


The system has a photovoltaic or solar panel, which converts the sun’s rays into enough energy to power an electrochemical reactor that is designed by to break down water and human waste material into hydrogen gas.

The hydrogen gas can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a backup energy source for nighttime operation or for use under low-sunlight conditions. He also plans on equipping the units with self-cleaning toilets that would also be powered by the energy from the sun and fuel cells.

A workable unit may cost around $2,000. However, the cost may get lower in mass production. After constructing a prototype using the Gates Foundation grant, Mr. Hoffmann would like to continue to enter commercial production of the technology to further refine the system and reduce its cost.

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