Three Birds, One Stone: “Omni Processor” Turns Sewage into Electricity and Clean Water

by Daniel Sokolowski

In some countries in Africa, many villages lack the basic infrastructure—plumbing, electricity, sewer lines, sewage treatment facilities—to properly dispose of waste and sewage. Instead, many use latrines or outhouses and collect waste in a pit in the ground. Eventually, too much waste accumulates, and one must dump the waste into a nearby water source, such as a river or the ocean. In time, this waste may contaminate a village’s source of drinking water. As a result, millions are sickened and die every year from drinking water laced with sewage and deadly microorganisms.

Without the installation of such fundamental facilities, attempts to modernize the country is severely impeded, and large swaths of the continent remain underdeveloped.  

Fortunately, in 2013, engineers at Janicki Bioenergy received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a sewage-fueled processing plant that produces electricity and clean drinking water. Their creation is called the “Omni Processer,” and it arrived in Dakar, Senegal this February. This invention not only promises to change the future of third-world countries everywhere, but the concept may also find an important foothold in the way first and second-world countries dispose of sewage and waste.

The Omni Processor, a hulking metal machine about 100 feet long and 30 feet high, takes in sewage via a conveyor belt. It first enters the dryer, a long tube that heats up and boils out all the water from the mixture. This water vapor then enters a filtration system, where any microbes and harmful particles are filtered out. The purified water meets the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for water sanitation. Bill Gates himself was so satisfied with the results that he drank some of the filtered water that contained urine and feces only five minutes earlier. “The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle,” Gates stated in a blog post. “I would happily drink it everyday. It’s that safe.”

The dried-out organic matter that is removed from the drinking water enters an incinerator that can reach temperatures as hot as 1000 degrees Celsius. The extreme heat prevents foul odor emission. The heat also boils water into steam for a generator that produces enough electricity to power the entire processor and create surplus energy to be used by others in nearby areas. As this process meets U.S. emission standards, all that’s left over is a pile of ash that can be used as fertilizer and natural insect repellant.

The entire system is economically feasible. Although the Omni Processor costs around $1.5 million to build, it is considerably cheaper than modern filtration facilities used in the U.S. or in Europe. The machine even pays for itself, since investors and entrepreneurs who finance the system create multiple sources of revenue: sewage removal, electricity, water and fertilizer.

The current S100 model of the Omni Processor can produce 10,800 liters of drinking water and 100 kilowatts in leftover energy everyday. Plans are already in the works for the Omni Processor model S200, which is predicted to take in waste from 100,000 people, and in turn create 86,000 liters of water and 250 kW of energy. Every. Single. Day.

The “Moneyball Model” of first-world sanitation designed for third-world use, promises to accelerate many countries on their path to industrialization, while simultaneously alleviating the obstacles of waste management, electricity generation and water filtration.