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University of Missouri

Reinventing the Toilet

Researchers are creating a high-tech waste treatment device for developing countries.

Jacoby Lab at Mizzou

Andy Miller, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering, conducts research on a supercritical water oxidation system that could serve as a neighborhood-sized treatment plant for fecal waste. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

About 2,100 children die daily from diarrheal diseases, mostly from the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization.

In response, biological engineer Bill Jacoby is leading a team of MU researchers that is creating an affordable high-tech waste-treatment device to help reduce the death toll.

The supercritical water oxidation system uses heat and pressure to transform water into a state that can contain a flame, which converts human waste into carbon dioxide, water and heat.

The system, which requires relatively little water to start, produces not only potable water but also energy to maintain the process and use for other purposes. The goal: design and build a unit that fits in a 20-foot storage container and treats waste for 1,200 people.