Scale-up of Janicki Omniprocessor with Incorporation of Reverse Osmosis Technology; Role of Philanthropy in Global Malaria Elimination

Wu, Arthur, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Jacques, Richard, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia

Globally, over two billion people lack access to adequate water sanitation services. The Janicki Omniprocessor (JOP) is a system that sanitizes human waste and produces clean water, fertilizing ash, and electricity. Currently, a Gates Foundation-backed pilot plant is operating in Dakar, Senegal with the capacity to process the waste generated by 100,000 to 200,000 people. In Dakar alone, over one million residents are not connected a sewer line, and resultingly, rely on inadequate and dangerous waste disposal methods. My group’s technical project produced scaled-up designs for a plant that can serve all one million residents of Dakar that lack access to adequate sanitation services. Although our design demonstrates the feasibility and long-term profitability of the project, we recommended further analyses and data collection as next steps. Gathering local knowledge and conducting physical experiments would require additional funding, so to promote our project more effectively, I undertook STS research on the role of philanthropy in the success of global malaria eradication. I chose this topic because, like JOP wastewater treatment, the Gates Foundation has played a large in its progress. Additionally, as a contemporary project in the Global South, the progress in malaria eradication can provide a roadmap to the success of the JOP and other similar projects.

The technical project focused on the scale up of the JOP to serve one million residents and implementation of reverse osmosis (RO) technology in the filtration system to increase efficiency and lower costs. In the JOP, dry human waste feeds into a furnace, which produces heat used to generate electricity and evaporate moisture from the wet human waste fed into the process. The burned dry waste, through combustion, becomes ash that is useful as fertilizer. The evaporated water from the wet waste then undergoes a series of filtration steps, including RO membranes, which produce potable water. To complete our engineering analysis, we determined a simplified representation of the chemical composition of human waste using literature. From this feedstock, we used the engineering simulation software ASPEN Plus to calculate the heat produced by the furnace. We determined that this heat was inadequate to fully evaporate the moisture from our wet waste stream, and so we included additional drying ponds in our design. Our project includes the design specifications for the process, economic cost flow analysis, and recommendations for future work. Information useful for next steps include localized chemical composition data for the waste stream, physical property data for evaporation, and particulate behavior data, which would require physical experiments and on-site, local knowledge.

In my STS research, I used actor-network theory to investigate the key factors leading to the success of the Global Malaria Program (GMP), with a focus on the role of philanthropy by organizations such as the Gates Foundation. The World Health Organization (WHO) founded the GMP in 1955 with the goal of eradicating malaria globally. Unfortunately, progress stalled by 1969, and the WHO abandoned the GMP in Africa after successfully eliminating the parasite-borne disease in America, Europe, and Asia. However, between 2000 and 2015, the WHO estimated that malaria incidence in Africa decreased by 37%, which coincided with a 2.5-time increase in funding during that time. A major contributor to that increase was the Malaria Forum, held by the Gates Foundation in 2007, that helped increase visibility of malaria eradication and earn the cause a place on the global public health agenda. In this heterogenous network, actors include the GMP, the Gates Foundation, malaria, the patient population, technologies such as insecticides and Mosquirix, logistics programs for supply distribution, and public interest. Public interest, while an actor, is also the network builder. My research found that the WHO’s recruitment of the Gates Foundation, through philanthropic networks and connections, enabled the success of the GMP when public interest in the program increased. This analysis indicates that the success of society-improving programs like the GMP and JOP require the recruitment of public interest, which philanthropic organizations can assist by attracting attention.

The technical project demonstrated the engineering and economic feasibility of the scale up of the JOP. However, practical data pertaining the chemical and physical properties were unavailable in literature, revealing the need for further experimentation and data collection. As a result, further investigations into the JOP scale up would require greater funding. The actor-network analysis of the role of philanthropy in the success of the GMP showed that recruitment of organizations such as the Gates Foundation can be critical to capturing the public interest necessary for attaining many global health projects. The JOP is already Gates Foundation-funded, and Bill Gates actively markets the project through his network. While the development of the JOP appears to be a stable network, this roadmap of using philanthropic organizations to recruit the public is applicable to many other crises around the world. The technical project also revealed additional ethical issues such as odor from drying ponds or the social implications of drinking recycled water, which highlight the need for additional work by engineer-sociologists.

The writing of this report would not have been possible without the help of Professors Eric Anderson (ChE Department), Richard Jacques (STS Department), Geoffrey Geise (ChE Department), and Aaron Mills (EVSC Department). Professors Anderson and Jacques were invaluable in providing expertise in formulating research questions and advice for the technical and STS research papers, respectively. Professors Geise and Mills assisted the project team by dispensing critical technical information for RO and wastewater treatment.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Actor-Network Theory, Janicki Omniprocessor, Aspen Plus, Hydronautics, Malaria, Gates Foundation, Wastewater, Reverse Osmosis, Philanthropy

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques
Technical Team Members: Julia George, Adam Mann, Noah Sprouse

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