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“At the core are really interesting scientific principles, so translating this into scientific advances that people can relate to is really exciting,” said one of the project leaders, Karl Linden, professor of environmental engineering in Boulder. “Biochar is an important subject for scientists at the moment, since it can be used to sequester carbon in the soil for 1,000 years or more.”

A team from Beijing Sunnybreeze Technologies Inc. also brought a solar-biochar system, but with the solar panels heating air that will dry sludgy human waste into nuggets that are then heated further under low-oxygen conditions to create biochar.

“We are trying to build a system simple enough to be fixed in the village,” technical adviser John Keating said.

One company from the southern Indian state of Kerala was not as concerned with providing toilets as with cleaning them. Toilets are more common in Kerala than they are in much of the country, but no one wants to clean them, said Bincy Baby of Eram Scientific Solutions.

“There is a stigma. The lowest of the low are the ones who clean the toilets,” Baby said. Eram’s solution is a coin-operated eToilet with an electronic system that triggers an automated, self-cleaning mechanism. With 450 prototypes now looped into sewage systems across India, electrical engineers are lining up for jobs as toilet technicians. “Now, they’re proud of their jobs.”

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