(Rob Waugh) Next time you see a dog lapping thirstily at a toilet bowl, pause for thought – next time, it could be you.
A new invention – funded by Bill Gates – aims to turn used toilet water into drinking water.
Manchester University’s Sarah Haigh is an expert in nanotechnology – the science of manipulating atoms in matter – and says, it could make waste water from toilets safe to drink.
The innovation – which has been funded by billionaire Bill Gates – could transform the lives of millions of people in the third world.
Haigh believes a new range of materials could extract energy from human waste.
Although the result may not be bottled mineral water, the researcher says the results could be the difference between life-and-death in regions without clean water.
She said: ‘I get a lot of comments about the research I do. I don’t mind people making jokes as long as they’re clean ones.
‘There has been a lot of research into biofuels. There is a lot of energy already present in human waste. Nano-scale materials mean that you can harvest the hydrogen and turn it into hydrozene – which is basically rocket fuel.
The expert, from Manchester University’s school of materials, believes that a scaffold device holding a mixture of bacteria and tiny metal nano-particles will react with the water to extract useful hydrogen, with the remainder filtered again to produce clean water.
Dr Haigh, who working with scientists at Imperial College London and Durham University, was given an initial $100,000 (£63,000) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Their idea for an inexpensive fuel-producing, water-cleaning device for the developing world, beat more than 2,000 other proposals.
And the group stand to receive a further $1m from the Gates next year if they can demonstrate the chemical reactions they propose can actually work.
The Microsoft founder – one of the world’s richest men – has promised to sink his fortune on combating worldwide poverty.
The researchers plan to have a prototype ready to demonstrate by 2013.
Dr Haigh said: ‘The phrase ‘off to spend a penny’ is used in polite society to refer to a visit to the lavatory.
We plan to turn this essential everyday outgoing into an investment by developing novel materials that convert natural waste into a useable resource.
‘This technology will be particularly important for remote locations in developing countries and will have the added benefits of reduced pollution and lower waste disposal costs,’ she said.