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Microwaving human faecal sludge as a viable sanitation technology option for treatment and value recovery

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journal contribution
posted on 24.11.2016 by Oluwasola Afolabi, M. Sohail (Khan)
The prolonged challenges and terrible consequences of poor sanitation, especially in developing economies, call for the exploration of new sustainable sanitation technologies. Such technologies must be: capable of effectively treating human faecal wastes without any health or environmental impacts; scalable to address rapid increases in population and urbanization; capable of meeting environmental regulations and standards for faecal management; and competitive with existing strategies. Further and importantly, despite its noxiousness and pathogenic load, the chemical composition of human faecal sludge indicates that it could be considered a potentially valuable, nutrient-rich renewable resource, rather than a problematic waste product. New approaches to faecal sludge management must consequently seek to incorporate a ‘valuable resource recovery’ approach, compatible with stringent treatment requirements. This review intends to advance the understanding of human faecal sludge as a sustainable organic-rich resource that is typically high in moisture (up to 97 per cent), making it a suitable candidate for dielectric heating, i.e. microwave irradiation, to promote faecal treatment, while also recovering value-added products such as ammonia liquor concentrate (suitable for fertilizers) and chars (suitable for fuel) – which can provide an economic base to sustain the technology. Additionally, microwaving human faecal sludge represents a thermally effective approach that can destroy pathogens, eradicate the foul odour associated human faecal sludge, while also preventing hazardous product formations and/or emissions, aside from other benefits such as improved dewaterability and heavy metals recovery. Key technological parameters crucial for scaling the technology as a complementary solution to the challenges of onsite sanitation are also discussed.


This research was supported by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle WA in the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Project’.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Research Unit

  • Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC)

Published in

Journal of Environmental Management


AFOLABI, O.O.D. and SOHAIL, M., 2017. Microwaving human faecal sludge as a viable sanitation technology option for treatment and value recovery. Journal of Environmental Management, 187, pp.401-415.


© Elsevier


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This paper was accepted for publication in the journal Journal of Environmental Management and the definitive published version is available at






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