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A ‘Blue’ Diversion That Could Help Keep India Clean

Kai M. Udert, senior scientist, Process Engineering Department and project leader, Blue Diversion Autarky, and Juri Lienert, scientist, Process Engineering Department, and project coordinator, Blue Diversion Autarky talk to BW Businessworld about the concept of ‘Blue Toilets’ and their relevance to India

The Blue Diversion Toilet and Blue Diversion Autarky are ideal solutions in the context of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan as they can improve the sanitary situation, especially in schools, informal settlements, or remote areas, where connection to the grid is not possible. Kai M. Udert, senior scientist, Process Engineering Department and project leader, Blue Diversion Autarky, and Juri Lienert, scientist, Process Engineering Department, and project coordinator, Blue Diversion Autarky talk to BW Businessworld’s Brij Pahwa about the concept of ‘Blue Toilets’ and their relevance to India.

Edited excerpts:

What led to the idea of Blue Diversion Toilets?

The project Blue Diversion Autarky aims to establish a self-sustaining off-the-grid (autark) toilet, which allows the recovery of resources on site. For informal settlements, where many people on very little space with lacking infrastructure demand for a functioning sanitation solution, the Blue Diversion Autarky approach is therefore promising. This project is a follow-up of the Blue Diversion Toilet. It separates undiluted urine, faeces, and used flush-and-wash water. The used water is treated in a multi-barrier treatment system and reused on-site. The resources of the urine and faeces are recovered off-site at a community-scale Resource Recovery Plant (RRP), where fertilisers are produced. In order to ensure safe and reliable disposal of the urine and faeces at an affordable price, we developed a profitable franchising business model that will be of interest to entrepreneurs.

Blue highlights the availability of wash and flush water, which is an advantage when compared to conventional source-separating toilets.

At which stage is the project and when are you planning to launch the same?
The Blue Diversion Toilet has been tested in two pilot project case studies. The first field test was conducted in 2013 in Kampala, Uganda. The second field test took place in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya. The user feedback was promising. The users emphasised the user-friendliness of the toilet and assessed the design to be appealing. The field tests also revealed further tasks for technology development, which we aim to address with industrial partners.

In the Blue Diversion Autarky project, we have developed the first prototype reactors for urine and faeces treatment, which can be integrated in the Blue Diversion Toilet. These modules will be tested in our laboratories, before they will be deployed for intense field testing.

How do you think the concept aligns with the government’s Swacch Bharat Abhiyan?
The Swacch Bharat Abhiyan focuses on providing hygienic condition and sanitation to the masses. Both the projects — Blue Diversion Toilet and Blue Diversion Autarky — are ideal in this context as they can improve the sanitary situation, especially in schools, informal settlements, or remote areas, where connection to the grid is not possible. The Blue Diversion Toilet is closer to commercialisation, but it has to be combined with centralised treatment facilities for urine and faeces. Such reactors have been developed recently. One example is the VUNA process, which allows fertiliser production from urine.

How do you plan to market these toilets in India?
The research for both projects has been financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the context of Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. At the moment, we are in contact with industrial partners in order to upscale the Blue Diversion Toilet. We are seeing several options to implement the Blue Diversion Toilet in India, and we are planning to get in contact with interested stakeholders, as soon as we have established collaboration with an industrial partner.

Do you think the underprivileged people in India, who are most vulnerable to diseases caused by a lack of hygiene, will be able to afford such expensive toilets?
In the Blue Diversion Toilet project, we developed a business model, which also considered the cost of transport and the benefit of resource recovery. Our preliminary calculations have proven that such a system can be affordable for the people most in need for improved sanitation. The costs for the Blue Diversion Autarky will have to be calculated after the field tests. We are confident that any costs can be strongly reduced by industrial production.

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