Wed, Jan 04, 2012 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Indian ‘glacier toilets’ go public

AFP, New Delhi

Developed for troops serving on glaciers high in the Himalayas, the non-flushing “bio-digester” toilet made by India’s top defense research body is now being offered to companies and poorer states.

It is one of 200 technologies produced by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) identified as for sale via the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The national trade body and DRDO in October forged a four-year partnership to hawk dual-use military products as part of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s pledge in 2008 to offer defense technology spin-offs to the public, officials said.

The “bio-digester” is among 10 of the research body’s products put on the fast-track for sale to state governments and private companies, an Indian defense ministry official added.

“Our condition is to take any non-classified technology [that can be used] for the benefit of the common man,” said Nirankar Saxena, executive director of the chamber’s Center for Technology Commercialization, which heads the project.

The “bio-digester” toilet, conceived by a DRDO unit in the city of Gwalior, works by mixing self-multiplying bacteria with human waste in specially made tanks, resulting in the production of methane gas and water.

It was meant for Indian combat troops deployed on Siachen, a 6,300m high glacier in disputed Kashmir, where temperatures can fall to minus 50oC.

Experts say they believe about 5,000 soldiers are deployed on the frigid wasteland, where calm has prevailed since a 2003 ceasefire with Pakistan.

“Work on it began 15 years ago because excreta buried in snow by soldiers in the Siachen glacier polluted rivers when the ice melted,” said scientist Vijay Veer of the Defence Research and Development Establishment, a DRDO unit.

The bacteria used in the mountain version were found in Antarctica, but another cocktail can be used in the hot tropical plains.

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