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Professors invent toilet that turns poop into power and digital currency

The toilet has been designed to be an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to the ordinary lavatory.

Professors invent toilet that turns poop into power and digital currency
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/bymuratdeniz

Professors at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), near the southeastern coast of South Korea, have come up with an innovative device that puts human excrement to good use. According to Insider, they've designed a special toilet that converts methane from one's feces into an energy source. Furthermore, those who use the BeeVi toilet—a portmanteau of the words bee and vision—also earn digital money that can be used at a market on campus to buy a range of items. The toilet has been designed to be an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to the ordinary lavatory.


According to Reuters, BeeVi uses a vacuum pump to send feces into an underground tank, thereby reducing the need for water usage in the process. Once in the underground tank, the human waste is broken down into methane by microorganisms. The methane produced through this process becomes a source of energy for the building, powering a gas stove, hot-water boiler, and solid oxide fuel cell. "If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure. I have put this value into ecological circulation," Cho Jae-weon, an urban and environmental engineering professor at UNIST and one of the toilet's designers, told reporters.


Cho added that an average individual produces about 500g of excrement every day, which can be converted to 50 liters of methane gas. This quantity of gas can generate 0.5kWh of electricity or be used to drive a car for about 1.2km (0.75 miles). The intelligent minds behind the BeeVi also devised a virtual currency called Ggool, which means honey in Korean. Every person using the eco-friendly innovation to take a dump earns 10 Ggool a day which can then be used to buy goods on campus.


From freshly brewed coffee to instant cup noodles, fruits and books, students can choose and purchase the products they want at a shop and scan a QR code to pay with Ggool. A postgraduate student purchasing items at the Ggool market admitted that prior to coming across the BeeVi, she'd only ever thought of human waste as something dirty. "I had only ever thought that feces are dirty, but now it is a treasure of great value to me," said Heo Hui-jin. "I even talk about feces during mealtimes to think about buying any book I want."


This is not the first time someone has come up with a way to make human excrement more useful. According to WTVT, a couple of years ago researchers at the University of South Florida came up with a mini sewage system that recovers nutrients, energy, and water from human waste. "This system works well," said USF engineering professor Dr. Daniel Yeh. "It allows us to get rid of our waste and actually recover clean water from that. Think of this as a renewable natural gas that's sitting in our waste and we're, for the most part, not mining that. So we can mine that for heating water, cooking, generating electricity, a number of uses."


Professor Yeh reportedly received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop his innovation in the hopes that it could alleviate some of the problems worldwide with water and sanitation. "If you think about a community that doesn't have sanitation, that doesn't have clean water, is lacking energy; this unit addresses many of those day-to-day concerns," said Yeh. "What we're hoping to do next is provide the service to the schools in South Africa, maybe put the system in some of the refugee camps around the world that's struggling with some of these same issues."

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