On Monday, Bill Gates demonstrated a system his philanthropic organization believes could help improve worldwide sanitation. He describes the process in his blog post:
“I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyor belt and drop into a large bin,” he wrote. “They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.”
The blog post included a video explaining the Omni Processor, the fantastical poop-to-water machine created by Sedro-Woolley firm Janicki Bioenergy that received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Predictably, the Internet quite enjoyed watching the world’s richest man drink a nice glass of liquid that was previously human fecal matter.
Gates’ poop swilling isn’t the first viral video of a Seattle-area company’s attempt to better the planet. A few months back, the world was introduced to the Whooshh Fish Passage, better known by its now-trademarked nickname the Salmon Cannon.
Bellevue-based Whooshh Innovations’ salmon cannon makes fish ladders seem so old-school, and they could eliminate the costly trucking of salmon around dams. But its possible ecological benefits are lost to the Internet, which apparently is fond of viewing animals as projectiles. HBO’s John Oliver gained Whooshh the most publicity after he did a segment on his “Last Week Tonight” show, which has been viewed nearly 2.4 million times on YouTube.
Whooshh’s and Janicki’s products certainly yield entertaining videos, especially when personalities like Gates and Oliver are thrown into the mix. But behind the meme-ification of the videos is a couple private-sector companies looking to tackle major issues both locally and abroad.
In his blog post, Gates writes that at least 2 billion people defecate in toilets that aren’t properly drained or on the ground. This poses a huge sanitation issue, and the Omni Processor can dispose of the waste while producing energy and water. The device Gates drank from can handle the waste of 100,000 people, powers itself with a steam engine, and can pump out nearly 23,000 gallons of potable water in a day.
The Salmon Cannon also is no gimmick. The Northwest’s clean electricity is produced by hydropower, but those dams severely inhibit salmon spawning runs. In response, dams must have fish ladders built in, or the salmon must be captured and trucked to their spawning sites. Whooshh says its product is completely safe for the fish, which can’t be said of concrete dam walls, and it could mitigate costly fish trucking operations.
Viral videos have helped both projects gain attention, but which one is winning the internet popularity contest? Oliver’s Salmon Cannon video has 3.5 times more views than Gates’ poop drinking on YouTube. That said, Gates’ video is two days old while Oliver’s was posted in November. At this rate, drinking fecal water will likely beat out projectile salmon.
The projects could solve humanitarian and ecological problems. But if they don’t, at least they were fun to watch.