Solar Sanitation System Awarded $40,000 in Startup Chile Funding

While much of campus melts in the heat and humidity of July, five researchers will migrate south to winter in Santiago, Chile, to develop a startup venture aimed at providing sanitation to remote and low-income communities.

The award-winning video from the 2011 National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance's Open Minds competition.

Sanivation was one of 110 companies awarded $40,000 from Startup Chile, a six-month Chilean government program encouraging entrepreneurial activity in the South American country.

“They’re trying to have a kind of Silicon Valley in Santiago,” said Andrew Foote, a 2011 civil and environmental engineering graduate, GTRI research scientist and member of the Sanivation team.

Sanivation began as a collaboration among the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), Georgia Tech Engineers Without Borders (EWB-GT), Emory University and a Bolivian nonprofit. EWB-GT students have made two trips to Bolivia to research and test prototypes of a latrine that kills disease-causing pathogens using solar energy. The waste can then be used for crop fertilization. Sanivation’s research shows that using this type of waste as fertilizer can increase crop yields by up to 50 percent.

In its current state, Sanivation has two proposed products: SanoLatrine and the SunSeat. SanoLatrine is designed for lower-income areas, while the SunSeat is for places with lower infrastructure in place, such as in mountains or parks. Both function on solar technology in places where conventional sewage treatment is often not affordable or feasible.

“What’s unique about Chile is that it has both target markets — it has a lot of parks, between mountains and oceans,” said Foote. “We hope to develop both products there.” Sanivation President Chris Quintero, a mechanical engineering major, said that the exact specifications of the products might change along the way, but that the sanitation focus will remain.

Foote and Quintero will be accompanied by recent Tech alumni Sean Kolk and Emily Woods, as well as Nick van Vliet, a friend and colleague from Emory. The team hopes to have its planning and research fostered by the hub of technology development and entrepreneurship created by Startup Chile. Quintero had intended to graduate from Tech in December, but will now postpone that milestone for at least a semester to work on Sanivation.

“I’m stoked about the team we have, and it will be exciting to meet so many other entrepreneurs and ambitious people,” he said.

Meanwhile, students on campus will continue to research and work on the project from Atlanta. “The relationship between EWB-GT, GTRI and Sanivation will be integral — there are lots of ways to collaborate there, and we’ll have a support network and a group of Tech students engaged at home,” Foote said.

This is not the first time the solar sanitation project has earned recognition recently. At the National Inventors and Innovators Alliance’s Open Minds competition in March, the group earned runner-up for the People’s Choice award and first place in the event’s video competition. It has also garnered interest and attention from global health nonprofits.

“There seems to be a lot of energy behind sanitation now,” Foote said, who mentioned that it was also discussed at this year’s World Health Organization conference. “We hope to come up with the implementation plan and generate enthusiasm around Sanivation in Chile, and then go into the fundraising stage.”

The team departs the second week of July and will post regular updates on its progress at www.sanivation.com.