Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Omniprocessor: A Creative Global Health Solution

What if I told you there is a machine that can turn waste into clean drinking water and electricity? Well I'm telling you now: there is one and it's pretty unbelievable. It's called the Omniprocessor and it was designed by engineer Peter Janicki and his team at Janicki BioEnergy. Let me back up for a moment.

Janicki Omniprocessor (roughly as long as two school buses)

Several years ago The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, known throughout the world for supporting and innovating cutting-edge global public health technologies and ideas, asked CEO Peter Janicki to develop a method to mitigate sewage in developing countries. In response to this request, Janicki traveled to countries all over Africa and Asia to learn about and witness the issue firsthand. What he found was enormous amounts of garbage with no way to contain or dispose of it. This, combined with the issue of sewage, caused fresh water to be polluted everywhere. Realizing that many of these countries lacked the capital and infrastructure to respond to these large-scale sanitation problems, Janicki felt absolutely hopeless and was convinced he'd have to admit he could not find a solution.

After Janicki became horribly ill after accidentally consuming contaminated water, he had an "Aha!" moment (as discussed in Van Steenburgh's article): "My resolve to solve this problem became personal, and that's when I realized that the problem was not too big. It was actually defined in a way that's too small."

His conclusion? He realized he needed to make sewage valuable. I'm sure you're thinking: I'm sorry, WHAT? But making sewage valuable in developing countries would give people an incentive not to contaminate their environment. This reinforced his understanding that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to getting rid of sewage. He knew he had to be creative. Thus, after some time, the Omniprocessor was born. Check out how the technical process of how it works here and see Bill Gates check out the machine in this video and read about it in his GatesNotes article. So where is the Omniprocessor now? It is currently being piloted in Dakar, Senegal in West Africa and will hopefully expand to other places if successful.

Janicki's creative process in this feat is nothing short of remarkable. By stepping back and giving his brain time to sit with the problems at hand, as well as having an experience (sickness from water) that triggered a different thought process, Janicki was able to view the problem in a new light and understand what the actual issues were. This allowed him to come up with the ideas that eventually turned into the Omniprocessor. In his TEDMED talk, which you can watch here, he talks about the importance of looking at a critical problem in a different way:

"If you're faced with a critical problem that seems impossible, sometimes it helps to step back and rethink how the problem is framed. You may be working on a problem that is framed in such a way that there is no solution even if you're really smart...We have to allow ourselves to think bigger and then have the resolve to never give up. When we put these two things together, we can make big dreams into a big impact." 


  1. I remember reading this article a a while back! I thought this was an interesting concept because this has such a practical mindset behind it. With the world's population growing rapidly today, both space and resources can sometimes be limited in countries that can't sustain their growth. I think a machine like this would be really good for such places IF it were implemented right. What I mean is, I know this technology is still being tested but its size and other factors means that it might not work on a global scale or it might break down too often (hopefully it doesn't). In regards to creative processes, I think it emphasizes the importance of both experience and reflection. A lot of times, great ideas come after having a bad experience and wanting to improve upon that experience. However, I'm interested in finding out what problems he overcame to have the Omniprocessor finally finished and how he overcame it. I know that inventors hit roadblocks on their way to success, but sometimes it becomes too much for inventors and the invention isn't made, so I'm also interested in further exploring how his inspiration worked with his creative processes.

  2. This article and creative product relate so well to our class! In this day and age, it is becoming increasingly important to use creativity to solve environmental issues. And that is clearly how Peter Janicki has solved the issue of unresolved sewage and waste in underdeveloped cities and countries. I enjoyed your discussion of how he "made sewage valuable" in order to incentivize environmentally friendly practices in these cities. In the video attached to this article concerning the operations of the actual Omniprocessor, it is clear why this machine has that name. Every part of the machine and every product of the machine has a use that adds to the overall important function of this machine. I hope that one day these machines can be used all over the world to power cities and lessen out impact on the environment.


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