During World Water Week, held in Stockholm in late August, the Flexcrevator Project was awarded the $50,000 first prize in the RELX Group Environmental Challenge. The Flexcrevator is the newest generation of a pit latrine emptying device, first invented by CCEE researchers in 2011 with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Flexcrevator team, led by CCEE’s Dr. Francis de los Reyes, continues to refine the device with field-testing, and market assessments, occurring across the African continent during 2017 and 2018.
The RELX Group Environmental Challenge was created to support innovative solutions to improve sustainable access to safe water and sanitation. A shortlist of four projects was chosen from more than 90 applications from over 30 countries, across six continents. The 2018 winners were announced during a ceremony held at the United Nations Global Compact CEO Water Mandate’s annual meeting, an initiative that mobilizes business leaders to advance water stewardship, sanitation, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The RELX Group Environmental Challenge supports SDG 6: safe, secure water and sanitation for all. Each year since 2011, they have recognized two exceptional projects that set a benchmark for innovation, involve local communities, and can be scaled to address urgent water and sanitation challenges.
Jocelyn Tsai, team member of the Flexcrevator project, emphasized that one goal of the project is to ensure the device can be manufactured locally in the areas where it will be used. “We are working closely with Catapult Design, a Colorado based non-profit design firm with a rapid prototyping machine shop in Nairobi, Kenya,” Tsai said. The team is also working with alumnus Tate Rogers (BS’11 MS’13) who was instrumental in the original design during his time in the CCEE department. Rogers returned as a consultant to the Flexcrevator project and traveled with the team during field-testing in Zambia and Kenya in 2017 and 2018.
The Flexcrevator team hopes to further improve the technology so that the trash exclusion unit can be adapted to various configurations in the field, for example, as an attachment to existing vacuum trucks or other pumping systems. Testing of engineering validation units in four countries in Africa is planned after review of results with the Gates Foundation. The team also hopes to further develop the commercialization plan to scale up the technology to serve the millions of pit latrine users in low- and medium-income countries.
Dr. de los Reyes leads the Global WaSH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) Cluster at NC State, which conducts transformational research to serve the WaSH needs of marginalized populations.
Find out more about the Flexcrevator project here.
Find out more about the RELX Group Environmental Challenge here.