- What are our aims and philosophy?
- Why are our innovations needed?
- How will we change lives?
- Who are we?
- What's our approach?
- What are the needs of people using poor sanitation?
- Why are we carrying out new scientific research?
- What are our key research areas?
- How are we harnessing the latest technology?
- How did we identify lead innovation ideas?
- What is Project Tiger?
- How will we help you bring our innovations to market?
- What about intellectual property?
- How can you get involved?
What are our aims and philosophy?
It’s one of the greatest advances in public health, yet good sanitation remains unavailable to billions of poor people in developing countries. Around 1.7 billion people worldwide still use one of the most basic forms of on-site sanitation, the pit latrine. And they face a recurring problem: the contents don’t decompose fast enough or fully, and the pits fill up.
We have two core beliefs:
- Many recent scientific advances, particularly in biotechnology, can be readily applied to reducing the rate at which latrine pits fill
- Market-led approaches can be the best way to address key development challenges
Based on these beliefs, we’re building a solid platform of knowledge about decomposition processes in latrines, and evaluating the potential of biotechnology and improved design to accelerate decomposition. By coupling this information with a better understanding of the needs and aspirations of users, we’ll generate affordable, sustainable solutions to extend the lifetime of on-site sanitation systems. And we’ll help new business ventures bring these innovations to market successfully, so they can have real impact on users’ lives. We want a world where safe, sustainable sanitation is accessible to everyone.
Why are our innovations needed?
Filling of pit latrines seriously undermines people’s health and quality of life. As well as flies and foul odours, users suffer anxiety, embarrassment and significant expense. They can either replace or empty their pit, but both can be costly or unfeasible due to lack of space – especially in unplanned settlements or emergency camps.
People who can’t afford these options have little choice other than to defecate outdoors. This is a serious public health risk – and is also socially demeaning. Until now, little research has been done on what controls the decomposition of pit contents, so no proven, effective solutions had been found to speed it up. We’re working to develop those solutions.
How will we changes lives?
Our innovations will transform the sanitation experience for those currently using basic pit latrines. We aim to address their key concerns and offer them more affordable, longer lasting options than they have currently. This will have a tangible impact on poor people’s health and livelihoods, reducing their exposure to disease and freeing income that can be used to support their families.
It’s our aim that within 5-10 years, users of on-site sanitation will have affordable, effective solutions to their sanitation needs.
Who are we?
Sanitation Ventures is a three-year project to bring sanitation solutions to poor people in developing countries. We’re funded by a grant of US $4.8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), made in June 2009. Our teams combine leading academic, industrial and commercial expertise from around the world, led by Steven Sugden of LSHTM and Walter Gibson of Bear Valley Ventures.
Our partners include top scientific and research institutions, such as Imperial College London, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, UC Berkeley in America and the UK’s Sanger Institute.
What's our approach?
We have a five-step approach to improving on-site sanitation in developing countries:
- Identify scientific advances from a variety of fields that could improve pit latrine performance
- Understand content decomposition processes and the influence of on-site sanitation design factors on performance, to support our innovations
- Assess the current and potential market and understand consumer needs and aspirations for on-site sanitation, so new products will be adopted and used
- Generate new on-site sanitation concepts for further development and commercialisation, to dramatically improve on-site sanitation for poor people
Promote the commercialisation of potential ventures to take innovations to market and maximise our impact
What are the needs of people using poor sanitation?
Our market segmentation research highlighted domestic latrine users as the largest set of potential consumers for our innovations. Our consumer research found that pit-filling is a significant problem and causes them real anxiety. Where they can afford it or have the space, people empty or replace full latrine pits, and sometimes use pit additives to try to reduce fill rates.
They want sanitation that offers privacy, safety, convenience, and protection from contamination (no smell, no visible contents, no insects). They’d also like it to appear modern and confer status. Most people think a septic tank would fulfil their aspiration, but cost is probably a major barrier.
Users would like a cheap ‘miracle in a box’ that could improve their latrine – but price and performance are critical.
Why are we carrying out new scientific research?
Our scientific research is designed to make new discoveries about factors that affect the performance of pit latrines – discoveries that can drive future innovation for improved sanitation. We’re carrying out two closely-linked lines of work:
Such factors could include a particular type of organic
- Analysing and modelling latrine contents and processes to identify the major factors which control fill rate
- Understanding the influence of pit design, environment, usage and location on decomposition rates and pit lifetime
material which is resistant to breakdown, or an environmental factor which slows microbial action, or an imbalance in the microbial population within the pit latrine.
What are our key research areas?
We’re analysing cross-sections of content, taken every 20-30cm of depth from latrines in Tanzania and Vietnam, for a wide range of parameters – both biochemical (protein, carbohydrates, ammonia, ash content, chemical oxygen demand (COD), etc.) and physical (temperature, moisture content, pH).
We’re studying the microbial diversity and exposing some samples to laboratory-based biodegradability assays. We’re also carrying out an 18-month longitudinal study to compare these parameters directly with fill rates, pit design, location and usage.
How are we harnessing the latest technology?
As the basis for our own innovation, we reviewed the latest developments in science and technology which could help tackle the problem of pit latrine filling. Adding large numbers of bacteria and/or enzymes (‘bioadditives’) to pit contents to speed up decomposition is the main approach behind current marketed products. We explored this and other possible options further, looking at progress across a range of relevant disciplines, including microbiology, enzymology and biomass conversion.
Our Bioadditives Survey with 80 companies found some similarities in the types of bacteria being used in their products, but revealed no new scientific evidence for their effectiveness. We also carried out a broad survey of science and patent literature – our Technology Landscaping Study. This tested five hypotheses for possible effective approaches to enhancing waste breakdown. We found ideas to support most of our hypotheses, forming a key input for our innovation process.
How did we identify lead innovation ideas?
After our technology landscaping, literature review and initial market research, we began our innovation work. We took a creative approach, involving broad collaboration across our teams and with external experts, through workshops and dialogue.
We developed a long-list of 10 potential ideas that could form the basis for innovations Our core team evaluated these ideas against detailed assessment criteria, including market potential, performance measures and possible business models. They gave us the information needed to identify which ideas to develop, and in what way.
Our lead approach is a biofilter system based on digestion by organisms such as tiger worms coupled with filtration. We’re also exploring two other opportunities before we decide whether to take them to the application development stage: Black Soldier Fly larvae (which consume excrement) and next-generation bioadditives.
What is Project Tiger?
Project Tiger is the working name for our lead market-led design and development activity to apply known biofilter technology to develop innovative sanitation solutions.
Our team of scientists, market researchers and design experts is working to develop a wet, on-site worm-based system that meets people’s needs and aspirations. It must digest and treat faecal solids effectively, produce low residual waste, use small amounts of water and take less space than a septic tank. It must also be affordable and foolproof to install and maintain.
We will demonstrate performance and demand for our innovation, and estimate its potential social, economic, environmental and health impacts. By the end of 2011, we will be engaging with partners to develop ventures to bring our solution to market.
How will we help you bring our innovations to market?
We’re looking for partners to help take our lead innovations to market – whether entrepreneurs or established businesses. That’s how we’ll make the greatest impact in improving sanitation for poor people. With proven technologies, prototypes and market analysis, we’ll be the catalyst for these business ventures.
We also offer funding to help partners accelerate product development and commercialisation. We will develop a Toolkit containing everything prospective partners need to put together a business plan. For further guidance, there will be application details for our Venture Development Grants. Please get in touch if you want to discuss possible business opportunities.
What about intellectual property?
We’re committed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s policy of Global Access. This means we ensure our innovations, products and information are accessible to the people most in need in the developing world.
We’re developing specific strategies for our lead innovations which will cover existing Intellectual Property held by third parties as well as exploitation of new IP we generate. Our general policy is of non-exclusivity for licences to develop and market commercial products, but we will consider requests for exclusivity under certain conditions.
We will only grant licences to organisations who contractually agree to fulfil the guiding principle of maximising the impact of our innovations on poor people’s lives.
How can you get involved?
We offer unique opportunities to a wide range of potential partners wanting to improve the lives of people without adequate sanitation.
We’d like to hear from researchers, scientists or product developers who have ideas for how we can solve the exciting challenges we face. We’re also looking for companies, organisations or individuals interested in commercialising our innovations. If you’d like to help us, please get in touch for more details.