Loowatt: Value Generating Waterless Toilet Systems in Madagascar

Loowatt: Value Generating Waterless Toilet Systems in Madagascar

Antananarivo, MadagascarLondon, United Kingdom
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Valuable system outputs generate new economies;

A unique toilet uses that biodegradable lining instead of water, and creates a clean, odour-free seal;

The anaerobic digester converts the toilet contents into natural gas and fertilizer;

Design and collaboration create a better user experience.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to sanitation, creating a crisis for human health that desperately needs financially sustainable solutions (UN Millennium Development Goals, 2011 Goals Report). In Madagascar, 68% of people live below the poverty line of $1.25 income per person per day, with about 80% lacking access to adequate sanitation (WHO/UNICEF, 2012). Loowatt is building a profit-generating sanitation system in Antananarivo, the capital, where there is widespread need for improved sanitation, energy and new sources of income. Electricity is expensive, hard to access and charcoal is the leading source of cooking fuel (Loowatt survey, 2012).

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Loowatt is a waterless toilet that uses a unique sealing unit to contain waste and odour in biodegradable film. Once sealed, the waste and biodegradable film are stored in a container that is emptied regularly into a nearby anaerobic digester. The digester produces biogas, which can be used as a cooking fuel or turned into electricity, and digestate, a nutrient-rich liquid, which is further treated at a secondary location to become market-ready fertilizer. The toilet and the small-scale digester, dubbed an ‘Energy Unit,’ are owned and operated by a local entrepreneur, and serve about 50 toilet users per day. This shared model fits the context of Antananarivo; a flood-prone urban centre where most families have shared pit latrines.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The Loowatt System benefits include (1) a toilet that is not only clean but aspirational, (2) improved local health and productivity, (3) increased access to energy, (4) increased access to locally produced fertilizer, and (5) significant job creation. The Energy Unit revenue sources are (1) toilet visits, (2) biogas energy products (such as cooking fuel, hot water for showers, mobile phone and battery charges), and (3) sale of digestate for further treatment. We have built a detailed financial model with inputs based on real data. Based on this, the Energy Units will earn $6-8 per day in gross profit. Employees of the Compost Factory, a facility that purchases digestate, and post-processes it to produce high quality fertilizer, service the Energy Unit regularly. In the current model, one Compost Factory will serve a local cluster of 50 Energy Units, but the system can be adapted to suit many scales. Conversion of digestate to fertilizer adds further value. The price of commercial fertilizer in Madagascar is about $1 per kilo, and our surveys have shown we can earn an equivalent price for Loowatt compost. A Compost Factory serving 50 Energy Units earns $160 per day in gross profit (USD).
Sustainability

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Some commodity-driven waterless toilet systems are being tested in parts of Africa, charging toilet users and/or owners for waste collection with a view to generating value from waste at central facilities. But unlike our system, these projects lack a truly hygienic, aspirational, and odour-free toilet. They also require raw sewage to be carried around the city—a hazardous job—while our system pre-treats the waste on site. Our distribution model enables toilet users and owners to benefit directly from the energy produced, which increases the return on investment. In others the production is remote, suggesting that toilet users may never see the benefits.
Team

Founding Story

Loowatt originated from Virginia Gardiner’s Industrial Design Engineering Masters project at the Royal College of Art in 2008. Her project questioned the unethical practice of flushing the toilet with drinking water and examined ways to turn human excrement into a commodity rather than a taboo substance to be flushed and forgotten. By testing out a series of prototypes in her London apartment, from worm toilets to aerating sawdust toilets to packaging toilets, Gardiner realized that the best incentives to use waterless toilets were (1) no smell, and (2) commodity generation. The formation of Loowatt Ltd. in 2010 created the opportunity for cross-disciplinary input from specialists in fields of design, sanitation, biology and engineering. Out of this came the optimized Loowatt toilet and system model.
About You
Organization:
Loowatt Ltd
About You
First Name

Fernanda

Last Name

Costa

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Loowatt Ltd

Organization Country

, WND, London

Country where this project is creating social impact

, AN, Antananarivo

Age of Innovator

18-34

Gender of Innovator

Female

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Innovation
How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive in underserved communities? (select all applicable)

Access to financing, Access to supply chains, Access to technology, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

In 2011, after being awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations Phase 1 Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Loowatt set out to implement a pilot system in Antananarivo, Madagascar. This process began with a thorough examination of the local landscape, market segmentation, and the development of a system model to maximize value in this context. We are now implementing a pilot system that will be operational in October 2012.

This work is being done in collaboration with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor in Madagascar, who have helped us reach a broad range of local stakeholders, from community councils to national ministries, to build awareness about waste-to-energy systems.

Our team includes a rapidly growing number of Malagasy employees.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

With the pilot system running, we’ll require 8-12 months of information gathering and system refinement to start scaling effectively. Our focus will be (1) to gather feedback to make incremental improvements to the existing system, (2) to collect data on system commodity generation, (3) to further improve our model, and (4) to explore methods for scaling.

Each Energy Unit will create a small business, 50 toilet users, and over 100 energy customers. The Compost Factory process generates 25-50 kg of fertilizer per Energy Unit per day. In 3 years we aim to have 10,000 Energy Units on the ground, improving the lives and livelihoods of over 2 million people.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

The Energy Unit needs to be proven as a profitable and sustainable enterprise to encourage rapid entrepenerial uptake. Validating our current assumptions is the first key performance indicator for this, with the pilot system operational we will assess the real return on investment for both the Energy Unit and the Compost Factory. This will enable us to understand the best financing models to implement and scale successfully.

Feedback about the system use and its associated commodities (toilet, energy and fertilizer products) will also be gathered in a commercial context. In-depth usage surveys and statistics will help us to improve the toilet system, while creating new approaches for refinement

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Successful implementation of the pilot system, incremental improvements and data collection

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Gather user feedback on energy unit (toilet and digester)

Task 2

Make incremental improvements to system components (toilet, digester, compost site)

Task 3

Develop marketing strategy for sale of energy and fertilizer

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Completion of the pilot stage, data analysis, system model improvements and initial scaling of units

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Analyze pilot system data and system model input

Task 2

Complete detailed plan to scale Loowatt system

Task 3

Begin implementation of scaling plan with the aim of providing improved sanitation to more than 300 people

Sustainability
Tell us about your partnerships

In Madagascar, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor’s support has enabled us to rapidly understand and access local people, systems and infrastructure providers. We intend to continue this relationship as we work toward scaling systems there.

Through the Gates Foundation’s Water and Sanitation grantee network, we are now in the process of forming further collaborations with groups that share common interests in sanitation, anaerobic digestion, and distributive system developments.

The InnovationRCA incubator offers us ongoing business support.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

The development of an alternative form of sanitation is a cross-disciplinary challenge; we value collaboration and understand that research, both scientific and market-based is important to create a successful result.

Mentoring from experts in business with experience in refining strategies for scaling would be welcome.