If you thought Bill Gates' contribution to everyday computing was impressive, his latest project could be revolutionary.
The co-founder of Microsoft has made it his mission to save the planet in his retirement through his philanthropic work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Now, the husband and wife team are backing a pilot project that hopes to turn human feces into clean drinking water in some of the poorest regions of the world.
Video from "Gatesnotes" shows Gates, listed by Forbes as 2014's richest person in the world with a net worth of $76 billion, drinking a glass of water created by the Janicki Omniprocessor.
The machine, designed by Janicki Bioenergy, an engineering firm based north of Seattle, burns human waste and produces water and electricity, as well as ash.
Gates writes: "I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.
"The water tasted as good as any I've had out of a bottle. And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It's that safe.
Sipping the water handed to him, Gates says jokingly, "It's water!"
The current machine can handle waste from 100,000 people and produce up to 86,000 liters of water a day and 250 kw of electricity.
Gates stresses that over two billion people do not have access to safe sanitation. For many across the globe, latrines are not drained properly and others defecate in the street. Often, the waste contaminates the drinking water. The result? Gates says that poor sanitation kills 700,000 children every year.
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"If we can develop safe, affordable ways to get rid of human waste, we can prevent many of those deaths and help more children grow up healthy."
Gates is now funding the Janicki Omniprocessor's pilot in Dakar, Senegal, which will test how the machine can work with a local community. Gates writes that if it is a success, they will look for other countries to use the scheme, such as India, where Gates believes lots of entrepreneurs could own and operate the machine.
Commenting on the project, Gates concluded, "It’s the ultimate example of that old expression: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure".