Winner of RELX Group Environmental Challenge creates energy with excrement

Innovative water and sanitation solutions for the developing world rewarded in RELX Group’s Environmental Challenge


The RELX Group Environmental Challenge supports innovative solutions to improve sustainable access to safe water and sanitation. This year's winning organizations developed a waterless and energy-generating toilet, and an affordable solution to bring safe water on tap to rural communities.

The winners were announced today during World Water Week in Stockholm, with the top prize of $50,000 going to Loowatt Ltd, a social enterprise based in the UK, and second prize of $25,000 to AguaClara LLC, a certified B Corp at Cornell University.

Team members will also get a year of free access to ScienceDirect, Elsevier's full-text database of scientific information, including almost 270,000  articles on environmental sciences published since 2000. The winning projects will be featured in the Elsevier journal Water Research.

They were chosen from nearly 100 applicants who submitted their projects and proposals with the criteria of being "replicable, scalable, sustainable and innovative, emphasizing solutions with practical applicability."

Loowatt wants to make waterless sanitation safe, sustainable – and profitable

A customer in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Credit: Loowatt, 2015The Loowatt team aims to transform economies and save lives through its waterless and energy-generating toilet system that is clean and odorless – on par with a flush toilet but without the use of water. In Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, it is now serving over 600 household users every day. By 2020, Loowatt’s aim is for its paradigm-shifting sanitation technology to serve over 2 million customers a day in developing markets.

The patented core technology uses biodegradable polymer film to create a waterless flush before treating the film and waste in energy-generating systems for natural gas and fertilizer production. It can fit into toilets of any shape, size or specification and offers an affordable pay-as-you-go model to city residents. The technology’s applicability, replicability and scalability is proven not only through uptake in Madagascar, but through the company’s success in the UK market, where its toilets are in high demand at luxury off-grid sites such as music festivals.

With support from the Environmental Challenge, Loowatt will further address low access to quality sanitation in Madagascar’s capital city by investing in local manufacturing capacity for toilet refills, creating more jobs and revenue streams.

AguaClara LLC uses cutting-edge design and technology to bring clean water to rural communities

Overhead tank and water treatment facility serving the Gufu Village (Khunti district, Jharkhand, India). Photo taken by Matthew Wood (2015).AguaClara LLC is a certified B-Corp — a for-profit company that meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Its designs, based on environmental engineering research, are for municipal-scale, nonelectric water treatment plants that are simple to operate and sustainable in small towns and villages. AguaClara's existing projects in Honduras (supported by the Cornell AguaClara program prior to the founding of the company) are now operated and maintained by the communities they serve. The program serves 52,000 people in Honduras and 2,000 in India.

AguaClara’s gravity-powered water treatment technology has sustainability built in, from their open-source design through to maintenance of the modular components. Water treatment plants are built using locally-available materials, ensuring that repairs can be done independently by the community. Local NGOs are trained to manage labor, while design and operation is simple enough that operators with a sixth-grade education have successfully run AguaClara plants.

The social enterprise has a vision for universal sustainable access to safe drinking water on tap. The Environmental Challenge prize money would support the continuing growth of AguaClara by creating a 10-village chlorine-based disinfection system in Orissa, India that will initially impact 5,000 people.

The RELX Group Environmental Challenge

The RELX Group Environmental Challenge was launched in 2011 to contribute to the Water for Life Decade (2005-2015), established by the UN General Assembly to reduce by half the world's population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. To learn more, visit the Environmental Challenge Environmental Challenge website. You can also watch videos of previous winning projects, and read about RELX Group’s Corporate Responsibility program.

RELX Group is Elsevier's parent company.

The judging panel

This year, the challenge's distinguished panel of judges included Prof.  Mark van Loosdrecht of the Department of Biochemical Engineering at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands; Dr. Prasad Modak, Executive President of India's Environmental Management Centre; Prof. Gang Pan of the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences; engineer Hanny Maas, Programme Manager of the Dutch WASH Alliance; and journalist Katherine Purvis of The Guardian Sustainable Development Professionals Network.

The 2017 Environmental Challenge

Register for the 2017 Environmental Challenge competition.


Written by

Matthew Wood

Written by

Matthew Wood

As Corporate Responsibility Project Coordinator for RELX Group, Matthew Wood manages the Environmental Challenge and other CR initiatives across the company.


comments powered by Disqus