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For communities lacking any sewage infrastructure, researchers at Cranfield University, in England, came up with the Nano Membrane toilet. When the user turns a hand crank, a mechanical screw dumps both the liquid and solid waste onto a special nanomaterial that hastens evaporation. This dramatically reduces the amount of disease-causing pathogens and odor-causing volatile compounds. The water vapor, now free of salt and other elements in urine, is subsequently recaptured with the help of another nanomaterial. It then drains into a collection vessel for use in irrigation or as nonpotable water for household functions.
Willie Jones is an associate editor at IEEE Spectrum. In addition to editing and planning daily coverage, he manages several of Spectrum's newsletters and contributes regularly to the monthly Big Picture section that appears in the print edition.