SUMMARY: SEVA has engineered an intelligent system that treats blackwater, thus providing a sustainable solution for the 4.5 billion people in the world without access to adequate sanitation. This highly scalable system eliminates the need for any existing infrastructure by employing unique mobile technologies for monitoring and maintenance.

PROBLEM SPACE: “SEVA is addressing the environmental and humanitarian need for safe, sustainable, and global human waste management. 4.5 billion people lack access to either adequate sanitation or wastewater treatment facilities resulting in devastating human health and environmental consequences.

Poor sanitation leads to over 100,000 preventable deaths annually, is the second largest killer of children under five, and disproportionately leads to girls dropping out of school. Taken together, these issues result in economic losses of between 2% and 10% of the developing world’s GDP. Additionally, bio-waste polluted waters, threaten the habitat of thousands of species, especially as climate change rapidly reallocates the world’s freshwater resources.

Sanitation and water scarcity are most problematic in the developing world, where the lack of infrastructure and capital make it difficult to install infrastructure-based water treatment systems. Sanitation solutions fit for the developing world must treat water without relying on grid water, power or sewage, be inexpensive, and be maintained by people with limited access to education and training. Without innovative technological advances like the wastewater treatment system developed by our team at Caltech, climate change and population growth will ensure that the ecological and humanitarian sanitation crisis will only get worse.”

SOLUTION: “Our breakthrough was to realize that bleach could be made from blackwater using verifiable technology from the chloro-alkali industry because blackwater contains sodium chloride. Once produced in the blackwater, unlike other oxidants, bleach mimics nature by converting pollutants, including nitrogen-containing compounds, back into the native components of air. This process only produces sterile, clear, slightly salty water which is suitable for reuse and discharge. An additional filtration step may yield potable water. This technology combats water scarcity and pollution by recycling water for sanitation and disassembling pollutants into innocuous elements for use in natural processes.

Field testing proved that a reliable treatment system alone is not a comprehensive solution. An inability to fix these systems and cultural barriers to using toilets are both crucial problems. To solve the maintenance issue, we equipped the systems with sensors that automatically detect malfunctions. We then designed a mobile app that can be send pictorial repair instructions to an on-demand technician. To solve the usership problem, phone charging stations and 3G access have been installed on the systems to encourage use. Taken together, we have seen that this comprehensive solution that anticipates maintenance and cultural adoption issues actually can solve the sanitation crisis.”

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