Upgrade human waste to fuel gas with plasma-driven gasification

2011 - 2014 • Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)


The development of a self-supporting sanitation system consisting of a microwave plasma gasification mini plant that generates energy and a human centered design for distributed sanitation facilities in urban informal settlements.


A collaboration of two Faculties (3ME and IDE) of Delft University of Technology proposes Microwave Plasma Gasification to generate electricity out of feces. This technology is a combination of the usage of plasma gasification and a solid oxide fuel cell and is an efficient method to get rid of large amounts of feces, meanwhile generating enough electricity to make the system self-supporting. A possible surplus of energy can be used to provide additional services to the community. Other resources that can be recovered out of the collected human waste are nutrients such as phosphate, which is a valuable fertilizer due to the increasing scarcity of its natural reserves. The separated cleansing and flush water can be purified and recycled on site so that it can be reused for hand washing or flushing. Ultimately, this system is a fully stand-alone entity that has no electric utility connection, no (heavy) reliance on piped-in water and no connection to any type of sewerage.

To bridge the gap between this high-end technology and the target group, the Industrial Design engineering team develops a holistic and human centered design sanitation solution for people in urban informal settlements including innovative business models, branding, gender issues and the accompanying product service system.

The proposed concept involves smaller community facilities, each serving 100-500 people per day (5-10 toilets per facility). These facilities are scattered around the slums and operated by local entrepreneurs. Human waste is collected from these facilities and transported to a central Plasma Gasification plant that is located on the outskirts of the slum. At this plant, the human waste of more than 2,000 people can be processed every day. With this concept we aim to demonstrate the potential of a distributed sanitation system that does not rely on a network of sewage pipes but on the empowerment of local collectors and distributors.

The project is split up in four sub-projects and responsible persons:
1. Design of sanitation facility and distribution of feces (Jan Carel Diehl, IDE)
2. Dewatering and drying (Wiebren de Jong, 3ME)
3. Plasma gasification (Georgios Stefanides, 3ME)
4. Gas cleaning and fuell-cell (P.V. Aravind, 3ME)

Countries of activity

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Further information

This was an RTTC grant.

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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Community sanitation Energy: electricity, hydrogen, fuel cells Energy: fuel (liquid or solid) Europe, Caucasus & Central Asia Fundamental research and engineering Global Product design and engineering Resource recovery Toilets or urinals (user interface) Treatment of wastewater or greywater University, education or research institution


Delft University of Technology

TU Delft was founded in 1842 as the Royal Academy by King Willem II. It has been known as the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) since 1986. TU Delft cooperates nowadays with many other educational and research institutions, both in the Netherlands and abroad. The high quality of the research and teaching is renowned. TU Delft has numerous contacts with governments, trade associations, consultancies, industry and small and medium-sized companies.

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Elisabeth von Muench (Elisabeth)

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