Crap to crypto: South Korean toilet turns excrement into power and digital currency

By Alma Fabiani

Published Jul 12, 2021 at 02:33 PM

Reading time: 1 minute

Imagine a future where going to the loo—for number one or number two—allows you to pay for a snack. Turning something that remains somewhat ‘shameful’ or taboo into a moneymaker wouldn’t be too bad, right? Well, at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in South Korea, where human waste is being used to help power a building (all thanks to the BeeVi toilet), the future is now. How does it work exactly and what potential does it represent for the rest of the world?

Cho Jae-weon, an urban and environmental engineering professor at the South Korean university has designed an eco-friendly toilet—the BeeVi, a portmanteau of the words ‘bee’ and ‘vision’—connected to a laboratory that uses excrement to produce biogas and manure. The toilet uses a vacuum pump to send faeces into an underground tank, reducing water use. There, microorganisms break down the waste to methane, which then becomes a source of energy for the building, powering a gas stove, hot-water boiler and solid oxide fuel cell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRrwe89vgHc

“If we think out of the box, faeces has precious value to make energy and manure. I have put this value into ecological circulation,” Cho told Reuters.

According to LiveScience, personal bowel habits notwithstanding, on average, both men and women move their bowels about once per day and produce a daily average of 14 to 17 ounces (400 to 500 grams) of faeces. This can be converted to 50 litres of methane gas, Cho further explained. This gas can generate 0.5kWh of electricity or be used to drive a car for about 1.2 kilometres (0.75 miles).

In order to simplify the BeeVi’s process and how it can benefit both students and faculty members at UNIST, Cho has devised a virtual currency called Ggool, which means ‘honey’ in Korean. Each person using the eco-friendly toilet earns 10 Ggool a day.

In turn, people can use the currency to buy goods on campus, from freshly brewed coffee to instant cup noodles, fruits and books. All they need to do is to pick up the products they want at a shop and scan a QR code to pay with Ggool.

“I had only ever thought that faeces are dirty, but now it is a treasure of great value to me,” postgraduate student Heo Hui-jin told Reuters at the Ggool market. “I even talk about faeces during mealtimes to think about buying any book I want.”

Forget about flying cars, NFTs and space tourism for a second, and take time to appreciate this potentially life-changing invention. No party poopers allowed here.

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