6/12/2014 UPDATES: The project has installed toilets in more than 300 households, and there is a waitlist of more than 500 households (read more). Also, the project's co-founders have compiled a collection of toilet designs - The Encyclopoodia - as part of their design process and as a resource for other toilet designers (read more). 

An innovative sanitation project that received seed funding from the Stanford Woods Institute's Mel Lane Student Grants Program recently earned praise from some of the world’s foremost exports in innovation.

A panel of judges representing NASA, Silicon Valley companies and Bay Area universities among other institutions, named re.source, an initiative to deploy portable, affordable dry household toilets in the developing world, “Best Overall Solution” in the Showcase of Solutions for Planetary Sustainability. The showcase, part of the Sustainable Silicon Valley Water, Energy and Smart Technology Summit at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., on May 23, highlighted “game-changing” ideas “that can scale to have a positive impact for sustainability at a planetary level.” The re.source project beat out nine other finalists.

Around the world, 2.6 billion people lack access to safe sanitation. To address that gap, Stanford civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. students Sebastien Tilmans and Kory Russel co-founded re.source under the guidance of Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Jenna Davis, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering . Working with the Water, Health and Development program at Woods, Tilmans and Russel recently completed a pilot phase in which they tested several toilet models with users before deploying toilets to more than 130 households in a Haitian slum. The pilot was done in collaboration with the nongovernmental organization SOIL, which continues to operate the service.

The toilets separate solid and liquid waste into sealable containers that are regularly removed by a service which recovers resources such as compost from the waste. Customers can subscribe to the toilet service instead of buying a toilet at a prohibitive up-front price, and they can take their toilet with them when they move. Mobile tracking technology monitors waste collectors' performance, maximizes efficiency and minimizes service costs.

Tilmans and Russell hope that re.source will help solve the challenge of delivering hygienic household sanitation to residents of dense urban slums. Normally, slum residents choose between open defecation, crowded public toilets or expensive private pit latrines that can't be emptied safely in the narrow alleys.

"The award is significant to us because it recognizes the importance of household-level sanitation across the world," Tilmans said. "It will help mobilize further investment and efforts in our sector."

Tilmans and Russel are seeking funding to scale up re.source.