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Conversion of human waste into biochar using pyrolysis at a community-scale facility in Kenya

2011 - 2015 • Climate Foundation


To design, build, and test a self-contained system that can pyrolyze (decompose organic material at high temperatures without oxygen) human solid waste into a type of biological charcoal (biochar) that captures and stores carbon.


In the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge (RTTC), researchers from all over the world are challenged to come up with a radical new technology for treating human waste, and eventually making it accessible for the whole world. Just treatment is not enough though; the solution has to be affordable, and has to produce valuable elements from the waste - either energy, clean water, nutrients, or all. Phase 1 of the RTTC was aimed at proving the feasibility of the technology; in August 2012, a working prototype of the biochar reactor was demonstrated at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair at the headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together with Sanergy in Nairobi, the technology will be developed further to make it ready to process human waste on a large scale in Kenya.

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The goal of this project is to design, build, and test a self-contained system that can pyrolyze (decompose organic material at high temperatures without oxygen) human solid waste into a type of biological charcoal (biochar) that captures and stores carbon. The design target of phase 1 was to deliver a proof of concept of the technology, towards the ultimate goal of processing two tons of human waste daily at a facility located in the slums of Nairobi.

Further information

Research or implementation partners: Stanford University

Biomass Controls was also a partner: Biomass Controls was included in a consultancy role for the development and adaption of pyrolysis technology to run on human solid waste feedstocks.

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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation East Asia & Pacific Energy: fuel (liquid or solid) Faecal sludge treatment processes Fundamental research and engineering Global Local NGO Product design and engineering Resource recovery Sub-Saharan Africa Urban (entire city)


Climate Foundation
Carson City, Nevada
United States

the Climate Foundation focuses on carbon sustainability in soils and oceans, including biochar sanitation infrastructure.

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Biomass Controls PBC
United States

Our mission is to offer transformative solutions in response to water and sanitation challenges around the world. Our Biogenic Refinery provides thermochemical treatment of high moisture materials such as manures, human excreta, agriculture residues and food waste. Our services provide Design, Technology Adoption Support, and Impact Measurement. Our decentralized technologies deliver improvements in health, the environment and quality of life while promoting gender equality. Our vision is to become a world leader in decentralized, community scale non-sewered thermal sanitation solutions that significantly impact quality of life and equality in served areas.

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Elisabeth von Muench (Elisabeth)

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