Globally, about 2.6 bil ion people lack access to even a simple ‘improved’ latrine. An improved latrine, per the World Health Organization (WHO), is the “hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact.” This lack of access results in serious health problems such as the transmission of E. coli and cholera resulting in life-threatening diarrhea.
However, even with improved latrines, the inevitable need for emptying them creates the same potential for the aforementioned health problems. Improvements in the safe handling of fecal sludge during the pit emptying process will significantly improve health outcomes for the billions of people living in communities who rely on this method of waste disposal and the billions more who will likely obtain improved latrines in the coming years.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already invested in the development of a mobile sewage collection and pre-processing system called the Omni-Ingestor that will feature debris extraction, sludge thickening, and treatment of extracted effluent. The aim of the Omni-Ingestor system is to make fecal sludge emptying a viable business model by improving sludge extraction in urban slums.
The greatest technical challenge faced in this endeavor is the development of a fecal sludge thickening and dewatering module that reduces the volume of fecal sludge by removing water; thereby making it easier to transport. Current sludge thickening technology is either too large or too energy intensive for this application. This RFI seeks a sludge thickening or dewatering solution that fits into the Omni-Ingestor footprint and is capable of dealing with sludge that has highly variable physical and chemical properties.
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