To that end, a grant of $7 million will support phase three of the Duke-led Reinvent the Toilet project. Led by Brian R. Stoner, a Duke-RTI scholar who will be joining the Duke electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department full-time in October, and ECE professor Jeff Glass, the project is working on an off-grid energy-neutral sanitation system that is currently being tested in India, where fully a quarter of all girls drop out of school when they reach puberty owing, in part, to a lack of access to safe and effective disposal options for menstrual hygiene products. In this next phase of the project, researchers will expand their prototype testing to South Africa with the installation of a toilet prototype in a township outside Durban.
In addition, the foundation awarded $3.7 million over two years for the establishment of a Sanitation Technology Cluster at Duke that will work to fill various gaps in global sanitation solutions. The STC team — which will be led by Stoner and include faculty from Duke's Global Health Institute, the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Pratt School of Engineering, and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative — will work with partners around the world on a variety of projects, including a microbiome analysis of fecal sludges, high-efficiency combustion technologies that use feces as a fuel, and various prototypes that safely dispose of and treat menstrual waste on-site. The grant also will fund partnerships with industry aimed at moving innovations from the lab to the field.
According to Glass, for every dollar invested in better sanitation, more than $5 is typically returned in the form of social and economic benefits, including the prevention of illness, higher worker productivity, and reduced healthcare costs.
"We can save lives, improve child health and ensure greater dignity, privacy, and personal safety, particularly for women and girls," said Stoner. "Many technical innovations fail when introduced into unfamiliar surroundings, for reasons unrelated to the engineering."