Alternative Energy

Charcoal Made From Human Waste Is... Surprisingly Great

Not to call you out, but you're probably taking your toilet for granted. Billions of people around the world don't have access to basic sanitation facilities, which is the root of many dire problems. One solution to the world's poop problem? Turning that waste into charcoal briquettes. File this one under "Sounds Goofy And Gross But Is Actually Brilliant."

When Poop Becomes A Problem

In 2015, 39 percent of the global population (2.9 billion people) used a safely managed sanitation service, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Close to that same number of people (2.3 billion) completely lack any form of toilet or latrine. With such a staggering percentage of the world without safe and sanitary options, big problems arise. The smell is just the tip of the, uh, iceberg.

When fecal matter seeps into the water supply, everything goes downhill, fast: Poor sanitation leads to the transmission of diseases like cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. But water affects more than what you're drinking. WHO reports that at least 10 percent of the world's population is thought to consume food irrigated by wastewater. Okay, we promise the downer stats end here. Enter human waste briquettes.

Harnessing The Pootential

Instead of finding better ways to dispose of waste, why not put the sludge to work? That train of thought is how human poop charcoal came about in some parts of Africa. Groups in Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana are looking at poop as a resource, turning feces into fuel. According to a 2015 report from the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, if all the openly defecated human waste were collected in latrines and turned into briquettes, it would yield up to 8.5 million tons of charcoal. This charcoal isn't just passable, it's exceptional. The stuff burns longer than firewood or traditional charcoal, is cheaper to both produce and purchase, and creates less smoke.

The final result of the briquette-ing process looks like a giant malted milk ball. But it all starts as sludge in a latrine. Once the goop is gathered, it is brought to a facility where it is dried out, fired in a kiln, then mixed with sawdust and molasses to bind it all together. Thanks to this weeks-long process, all the harmful pathogens and other dangerous crap (no pun intended) is eliminated, smell included. Behold, the power of poop!

Charcoal made from human poop is surprisingly great for grilling

Written by Joanie Faletto September 13, 2017

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