Education

Oak Ridge Middle School students' toilet concept could pass muster

Urine, not water, would flush the No. 2s

Courtesy of Cathleen Beke
Courtesy of Cathleen Beke
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MARION — It’s an idea so disgusting, it almost had to have come from the mind of a middle school boy.

What if a toilet could store urine, deodorize it and then later use it to flush fecal matter?

“It started as a gross joke,” Eli Norris, 14, admitted.

But after testing ways to deodorize urine — outside, per a parent’s request — researching pump mechanics and building a prototype toilet, Oak Ridge Middle School’s LEGO Blasters team has received a provisional patent for the idea.

It’s also earned the team of 10 students a nomination for the Global Innovation Award competition, which features some of the best inventions by students ages 9 to 14 in San Jose, Calif., in June.

It’s the Linn-Mar district school’s first nomination, coach Cathleen Beke said, and the team was one of three Iowa teams chosen out of 400 statewide.

“These guys did way more research than we’ve ever done before,” said Jason Silcox, a Rockwell Collins engineer who serves as the group’s mentor. “It really paid off.”

About 30 percent of a household’s water consumption goes to flushing, Sam Greiner, 13, explained. The students’ water-saving toilet, named the Ecommode, uses 85 percent less water than a traditional toilet.

It does so with an additional lid that funnels urine into a receptacle in the tank, where it’s deodorized and stored. It’s later used to flush fecal matter, students said.

“By state (competition), I think we ran out of potty jokes,” Silcox noted.

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Despite the invention’s environmental impact, students said it was a hard sell to some of their peers, who summarized it as “really gross.”

“I didn’t know if it was going to work,” said 12-year-old Anjali Addagarla, the lone girl on the team, who still cringes at the premise. “And, it was just the thought of urine flushing.”

But a survey of 200 adults found most would consider purchasing the product, and the team rallied behind the original idea.

“In hydrodynamics, everything is out there already,” Beke said.

Students should find out if they get to attend the Global Innovation Award competition in California later this month.

If they do, they plan to continue developing the eco-friendly toilet, which they think would retail at about $300.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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