Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Component development and integration update

Development and integration of the Nano Membrane Toilet components is ongoing.   In the new toilet configuration faeces will settle to the bottom of the holding talk and urine will be removed from the top using a weir.

This test rig allows us to monitor water flux and test if any other compounds might be passing through the membrane.   This will allow us to extract clean, pathogen free water from the urine.

We are testing a variety off the shelf membranes.   We'll start testing bespoke membranes shortly.
We're also studying the fouling of the membranes under the microscope.   We anticipate membrane fouling will be low as the membranes are hydrophobic, so they will only need to be removed for regeneration every 3 months.

We've also taken delivery of a small gasifier from our collaborators in RTI and Colorado State University.   We'll start trials with synthetic faeces, but soon will use real human waste.   The gasifier will combust the dewatered human waste, transforming it into harmless ash.

This steel framed version of our iconic household toilet will help us fit together the new components.   We've also added wheels for ease of movement during development but also to gain an understanding of how the final model could be transported easily by the end users.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Marking World Toilet Day in London and Barcelona

We were delighted to receive two invitations to talk about the toilet at World Toilet Day events.

Firstly, WSUP hosted a showcase of sanitation research as part of their My Toilet  exhibition.   Jake Larsson gave a short talk about the Nano Membrane Toilet, alongside other Cranfield researchers:
  • Elise Cartmell presented the Transforming Waste consortium's work on anaerobic digestion  and nutrient recovery from pit latrine sludge in Zambia.
  • Ben Martin introduced the trials we are doing on different technologies to treate the Clean Team waste in Ghana.
  • Ruben Sakrabani talked about our research on the efficacy of Loowatt's human waste derived fertilizer in Madagascar.
  • Peter Cruddas explained what waste streams would be appropriate for co-pyrolysis of pit latrine sludge.
Cranfield's technical research was balance by presentations from WSUP on their research into topics such as health impacts and mobilising municipality finance for sanitation.   Overall it was a fantastic event that really demonstrated the breadth and importance of sanitation research, and we were honoured that the Nano Membrane Toilet was a part of it.

 Jake Larsson takes the stage at WSUP's My Toilet exhibition

 Secondly, Ross Tierney was invited out to join a panel of experts at the World Toilet Day and Improving Sanitation event hosted at the Roca Gallery Barcelona. The other speakers alongside Ross included Xavier Torras, Corporate Brand and Communication Director at Roca; Jordi Corral, Innovation Lab Project Manager from Roca; Mark Frantz, Fundraising Manager from Unicef; Martin Azua a designer and architect interested with particular interest in toilets and bathrooms.  The topic of conversation on the night revolved around providing access to sanitary solutions for the most vulnerable people with particular focus on equality and dignity for women and children, a theme we are certainly exploring with the Nano Membrane Toilet.
 Ross Tierney joins the panel at the Roca Gallery

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Highly Commended at the Green Gown Awards

We were delighted to be Highly Commended in the Research and Development category at the 2014 EAUC Green Gown Awards.   Alison and Ross attended the awards ceremony at Manchester University and were treated to a delicious organic dinner before being presented the award by TV personality Simon Reeve and a representative from category sponsors, ARMA.

 Alison and Ross with the Simon Reeve and a representative of ARMA.

The judges said, "This is a strong project that has the potential to provide sanitation to people who do not currently have a toilet - 2 billion people around the world."   Our Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Gregson added, "The Nano Membrane Toilet project exemplifies the innovative, transformational and multidisciplinary research for which Cranfield is renowned. Winning this Award enhances awareness of Cranfield’s international research capabilities in water and sanitation, and provides much-deserved recognition for the hard work and dedication of all the project team."

The winners' brochure containing details of all the prizewinners can be downloaded here.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Kickstarting collaboration

The key to success in the next phase of the project is collaboration with other grantees who have already solved some of the tricky problems and who have invaluable expertise.   Last week we kick-started these collaborations with a series of visits and discussions.

Firstly Athanasios traveled to visit RTI International in San Francisco.   He's arranged for one of their gasifiers to be shipped to us to test and incorporate into our toilet.   Watch this space for its arrival!

Secondly,  Jeremiah Deal and Heather Deal from Three Bird Swan came to help is with some of our components like the pelletiser which will produce dry pellets form the dewatered sludge to go into the gasifier.   They also gave us some ideas on our whole system integration.

Leon, Ewan, Jeremiah, Ross and Jake discuss the system

Thirdly, Chris Buckley and Tina Velkushanova from the University of Kwa Zulu Natal came to share their experience of using an Archimedes screws to transport faecal sludge, as well as make some suggestions of how to make sure the flush provides a total odour barrier.

Peter, Chris and Tina examine the works-like prototype which will be used for the initial screw testing.
Chris, Ross and Tina consider how the bowl design will affect smearing.

Finally, Colleen Archer from UKZN came to give a talk about how the Ascaris egg can be used as a marker organism to detect if faeces is safe for reuse.   She also shared some fascinating stories about sanitation in her home town of Durban.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Join the team to develop the Nano Membrane Toilet

We currently have four positions open for post-doctoral researchers to join the team and help us develop the Nano Membrane Toilet.   Please click the links for full details of what the role will entail and what qualities we are looking for:


Salary £30,542 to 34,042 per annum

Closing date for receipt of applications: 28th October 2014             
Expected interview date: 30th October – 5th November 2014

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Nano Membrane Toilet receives further funding

We are delighted to announce that the Nano Membrane Toilet has received further funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue the development of the toilet.   This next phase will take us to January 2016 when we will have a prototype ready for field testing.   We're really excited to be starting work again after a 6 month break.

We will be continuing to work on some of the components from phase one, particularly the initial collection chamber, the membrane, the flush and the screw, the latter in collaboration with UKZN.   The biggest change is that rather than coating the dried solids, we're now looking to combust them in the toilet using a gasifier - we'll be working with RTI who are already testing their gasifier in India.   This changes the energy balance of the toilet, for example we can now consider recovering the water using a heat exchanger instead of the beads, and we won't have to use the bicycle power generator or hand crank to power the membrane processes.

These new components will require changes to the overall toilet design, and also an intelligent control system which we'll work on with Three Bird Swan.   We'll also continue to collect the perceptions of our target users, through interviews with the customers of Clean Team in Ghana.

Keep following the blog for updates and get in touch with any questions.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Reinvent the Toilet Phase 1. Design Team progress photos.

Created with flickr slideshow.

As we have now reached the end of Phase one the Design Team wanted to show some snaps of the project as it's developed over the course of the year.

This album shows primary research in Ghana, early idea generation to prevent smell in the form of a waterless flush, the workshop, aesthetic design development, CAD work, building the Aesthetic prototype and the culmination of the first phase of the project; the Reinvent the Toilet fair in Delhi, India.

The Design Team consisting of Jake Larsson, Ross Tierney and Dr. Leon Williams are looking forward to getting back to the drawing board and continuing with the the challenging and fascinating project and also potential future collaborations and opportunities.

Monday, 15 September 2014


We’d like to take an opportunity to acknowledge and thank the partners we’ve worked with so far on the Nano Membrane Toilet.   They’ve all done exceptional work.  

Model Products worked built the technical 'works-like' rig that was on display at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Delhi and the Natural History Museum. The rig brought together the individual components to create a whole system that will allow for future testing and development. The rig was built to a very high standard and attention to detail was evident with great consideration given to usability during testing.

NextShoot produced the video that explained the toilet system and the impact to the target market in a succinct and engaging manner. Their enthusiasm, skill and experience combined to convey a complex system very effectively in a short amount of time.

Spectrum Gas Systems fabricated the membrane and condensation test rigs, which were instrumental in benchmarking the performance of individual components. The data generated here informed the design of both the "works-like" rig, and the "looks like" prototype.

BMS were involved in early idea generation and concept development on the odour barrier and the fabrication of the demonstration prototypes. Their diverse background helped during the creative process and with many years practical experience, they were able to produce robust test rigs that clearly explained the ideas.

Artem produced the Aesthetic prototype that allowed people to interact with the toilet and understand the aspirations of the Cranfield team. The ‘looks-like’ prototype gave an impression of a high quality product and fulfilled the aspirational image that the team wanted to convey.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

How are universities already addressing local, national and international issues?

This is the question posed by the Association of Commonwealth Universities as part of their "The world beyond 2015 - is higher education ready?" campaign.   When they saw the Nano Membrane Toilet they thought it was an ideal answer to their question!

See our feature on their website here.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Nano Membrane Toilet is a finalist for a Green Gown Award

We're really pleased that the Nano Membrane Toilet has been shortlisted for a prestigious Green Gown Award.   These Awards recognize the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges across the UK.   The Nano Membrane Toilet has been nominated in the Research and Development category, with six other finalists.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on November 3rd.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Fantastic week at the Natural History Museum

We had a fantastic week at the Natural History Museum as part of Universities Week.   Many of our visitors were shocked to learn how many people didn't have access to a toilet and were pleased we were doing something about it.   Visitors included school groups, international tourists and Londoners on a day out, especially the latter on the late night opening on Wednesday when we talked non-stop.   One of the school boys said "that's the coolest toilet I've ever seen!"

The stall looked fantastic:

And was very popular - everyone had heard about "the toilet" and wanted to see what the fuss was about.
 Visitors even tested the prototype for comfort.
Five of the stands at the Natural History Museum were singled out in a feature in the Guardian and we were delighted that an interview with our designer, Ross Tierney, was included.

The only downside was we would have liked an opportunity to meet with David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, who visited some of the other stands, but didn't want to be seen with a toilet!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Sharing the toilet with the Sharing Knowledge Foundation

We were delighted to be invited to speak about the Toilet at the 9th Sharing Knowledge Foundation Conference in Lisbon from 15th-17th May 2014.    The Sharing Knowledge Foundation was set up by Professors at CERN with a concern for global issues including water, energy and international cooperation in science.   We were delighted that they'd decided to include sanitation and invite us to speak on the issue.

Alison's talk started with a graphic introduction to the challenge (she has a good library of photos!) and then she described the Nano Membrane Toilet with the help of the video.

The participants were very interested in our solution, although they were very aware of the challenges we face in keeping the costs low enough.

A video of Alison's presentation is available here:

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Nano Membrane Toilet goes to the Natural History Museum

The Nano Membrane Toilet will form part of an exhibition for Universities Week 2014 at the Natural History Museum in London from 9 to 13 June.  

Researchers from Cranfield University will join teams from 44 other UK universities represented at the Museum during the week. The exhibition will include research stations, pop-up performances, debates and live research demonstrations, covering a range of research themes.

 The exhibition will be open every day from 10am to 6pm, with late night opening until 10pm on Wednesday 11 June. Cranfield’s Nano Membrane Toilet exhibit will be part of the ‘Environment and Sustainability’ theme and will be based in the Atrium.   We’ll have all our prototypes so plenty of chance to try them out.   You can see how much power you can generate with our hand crank generator.   You can try our waterless flush.   And you can even sit on our toilet!

There’s a full list of all the events happening for Universities week here.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Nano Membrane Toilet at Reinvent the Toilet Fair, Delhi

Our team really enjoyed our time at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Delhi.   We were really inspired by what the other teams had achieved and really happy to receive the feedback all of the Fair attendees.   Here are some of the highlights (thanks to Ben for the photos):

We were really pleased that everything arrived OK and the stall looked fantastic.
We attracted a lot of visitors.
Including Secretary Vijay Raghvan from the Government of India's Department of Biotechnology.
And the Ambassador to India from Burkina Faso who wanted to try everything!   He held the voltage record for the bike generator, but he did ride in the Atlanta Olympics!

We were also really pleased to help put together two videos for SuSanA.   The first is Alison explaining the toilet to Elisabeth:

The second is a tour of our stand:

We were also really pleased to feature in the Hindustan Times.

If you want copies of any of the posters on our stand these can be downloaded here, and a copy of the business model brochure is available here.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Video Launch

Our new video which explains the Nano Membrane toilet is launched in time for the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Delhi.

Monday, 17 March 2014

House of potential target users

Whilst in Kumasi, Ghana, our research team visited the house of an elderly gentleman to gain insight in the potential target users.
This photo was a key image in the project because although this man has a very high standard of living with modern conveniences like TV, Stereo, DVD player, he does not have a toilet in his house.
As 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation, there is bound to be a spectrum of wealth.
This was confirmed by the team's guide who is a Kumasi resident as well as having many years working in the Sanitation:

"many of such residents will normally have all the amenities you can think of (I.e TVs, fridges, mobile  phones and satellite decoders) but will not have toilets at home"

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Nano Membrane Toilet goes to India

We're pleased to finally be able to announce that the Nano Membrane Toilet will be exhibited at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in India next week.   We've been busy preparing for the Fair for the last 6 months (see photos below) and are really looking forward to sharing our prototypes, research findings and business ideas with the other Reinvent the Toilet teams and exploring potential collaborations.

We believe the modular and scalable design of our toilet allows it to interface with the technologies other Reinvent the Toilet teams have developed.   Specifically:
  • The membranes allow human waste to be dewatered so that thermal processing is viable.
  • The flush provides a visual and odour barrier without adding any more water to the waste.
  • The human power generator can provide energy to any system.
We're also looking forward to receiving feedback from other experts in sanitation who will be attending the Fair and meeting with Indian stakeholders. 

From the Cranfield team in attendance will be Alison Parker, Ewan McAdam, Ben Martin, Leon Williams, Ross Tierney, Sean  Tyrrel and Athanasios Kolios.

Here's some of our journey to the Fair so far:

  This is the works-like prototype being carefully packed into its crate.
Here are the crates being loaded onto the lorry for the first stage of their journey by sea to India.

This is our vision of how our stall will look.

Keep your eye on this blog next week for our updates from the Fair!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Flush mechanism test rig

The design team have been developing a method of moving the waste from the bowl to the holding tank whilst preventing bad odour. To see the early stages of this please see the earlier blog post: 'How do you Flush without a Flush?'
The stringent requirements of the development were:

  1. No additional water can be used
  2. No additional power can be used
  3. The action has to be in keeping with the user’s normal behaviour 
  4. A constant barrier must be maintained between the holding tank and bowl

Below is the latest test model allowing the team to experiment and develop the idea further. Areas of interest will be dimensions, gear ratios and refining the mechanism but with considerable focus on research into utilising non-stick materials.

The mechanism is driven by the user closing the lid after they have finished.
(...Its a joke shop 'specimen' by the way)

The rotating action empties the waste into the holding tank maintaining a constant odour barrier and the flexible polymer swipe removes any final remnants.

The driving action is closing the lid. this is a 90' rotation that is geared be converted into a 270' rotation of the cup before stopping and then the swipe does a 180' rotation.