Kenyan Teenager Ingeniously Coverts School’s Feces Into Clean, Safe Energy

Using a Human Waste Bioreactor (HWB), the Maseno School in Kenya is now able to fuel their kitchens with clean, safe energy.

Credit: Makeshift

Credit: Makeshift

It was in early January 2013 that Kenya’s oldest English-speaking school, the Maseno School, opened its dormitories to 720 students. The set-up had a few problems, however: pit latrines and a faulty sewage system inevitably left foul odors and polluted local freshwater sources, and the kitchen used firewood to fuel its ovens – unhealthy for both the cooks and the environment.

To combat this problem, 17-year-old high school senior, Leroy Mwasaru, and four of his friends had an idea: harvest the poop their school was producing and turn it into a safe, clean, and environmentally-friendly cooking fuel.

Check out the video below, courtesy of Makeshift, which captures the project:

Mwasaru and his friends proposed to build a Human Waste Bioreactor (HWB) that could not only harvest all the waste from students living in the dorm, but also organic waste from the kitchen, cow dung and slashing grass to create biogas for cooking fuel.

Grist explains that the HWB is “an underground chamber [which] holds the human, animal, and kitchen excrement, while microorganisms go to work breaking down the muck. The process releases biogas, a source of renewable energy comprised mostly of methane, the same as the fossilf uel natural gas that powers most non-electric stoves in the U.S. The gas is contained in the HWB, ready to use as fuel.”

Credit: Grist

Credit: Grist

With that innovative idea in mind, Mwasaru and his four friends set about to generate support and backing for the HWB. The team was accepted to the Innovate Kenya camp this past summer, where they were able to refine their design with the help of MIT students. By the fall, the team had a working prototype and enough funding to purchase a plastic biodigester for the second iteration of the HWB.

And just last month, Mwasaru presented at the Techonomy 2014 conference in California, gaining even more ideas to develop and refine the HWB design. Speaking to Grist, Mwasaru explained, “After the success of our second prototype, we have been hands on, working on designing a human waste bioreactor toilet that separates urine from [the] solid part, stool, since urine will lower the rate of gas production or, worse still, stall the whole process.”

Credit: Makeshift

Credit: Makeshift

The final version of the HWB will cost around 7 million Kenyan Shillings ($85,000) to build and install, but Mwasaru estimates that it will cut the school’s cooking fuel costs in half while providing a bounty of benefits for the health of the local community and the environment.

What’s after that? Mwasaru hopes to turn the project into it’s own company, charging customers according to their ability to pay, so as to provide clean fuel and sanitation services to poor or off-the-grid communities.

Credit: Makeshift

Credit: Makeshift

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