The DFC ranch runs on well water and a septic system, so we put a little more thought into turning on the tap than your average city dweller might. Also, water conservation is a key issue in our neck of the woods — so I was fascinated by a new invention that looks to cut bathroom water usage by half in one of the trickiest places: the toilet bowl.
A team out of Penn State has invented a spray coating, based on the science of the pitcher plant. When the rough interior of the carnivorous plant’s flower is saturated by rain, the surface becomes devastatingly slippery, spelling doom for insects that attempt to feed on its tempting nectar. What happens in a toilet bowl boasting this combo coating is, while similar, a bit… less glamorous.
“Like the plant, the design uses two separate coatings, which create a combination of roughness and lubrication. When the coating is sprayed on a surface, like a ceramic toilet bowl, it covers the surface in nano-scale polymer “hairs” — 100,000 times thinner than human hair — that permanently attach to the surface. A second spray coats the microscopic hairs with lubrication. In lab tests with synthetic poop, the researchers watched as the waste slid effortlessly off the surface of a toilet bowl, even though poop normally sticks to toilets, requiring large amounts of water to flush it away. The coating also repels bacteria.”
A startup will be bringing the now-combined-in-one sprays to market soon. This is great in so many ways: When a toilet doesn’t have to work as hard to flush sticky waste, users can get away with using the “low” setting on dual flush toilets for basically everything! (If you still have a single flusher, you can hack its capacity to reduce the volume of each flush.) Even more importantly, the coating could be a game-changer for waste disposal solutions in areas without much water or infrastructure. (It was initially developed for the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.)
Since the flush toilet, as we know it, was invented by Thomas Crapper (I’m not kidding) in the late 19th century, nothing much has changed in the fundamental operation. But this new coating reduces — or eliminates, pun intended — the need for water, which is an innovation especially suited to our age of conservation. I’m interested to see where it goes!