RTI International Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—RTI International announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

David Robbins, water and sanitation specialist at RTI International, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled "Using a coconut waste product as a filter to treat wastewater."

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds scientists and researchers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Robbins's project is one of over 85 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 6 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"GCE winners are expanding the pipeline of ideas for serious global health and development challenges where creative thinking is most urgently needed. These grants are meant to spur new discoveries that could ultimately save millions of lives," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Robbins and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 6 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas: polio eradication, HIV, sanitation technologies, family health technologies, and mobile health. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 7, will be accepted through May 19, 2011.

RTI's Grand Challenge project is developing low-cost wastewater treatment systems using cocopeat, the dust that remains when fibers are removed from ground coconut shells. At two schools in Muntinlupa City, Philippines, RTI is setting up testing facilities to experiment with cocopeat to determine the best mix for long term use as a filter to treat wastewater. The testing facilities will work in conjunction with activities at the schools to raise awareness of wastewater treatment and hygiene, as well as provide improved sanitation for hundreds of students and staff.

"If the material proves to be effective long term and at a large scale, it presents an exciting opportunity," Robbins said. "Cocopeat is a widely available material that we can repurpose to improve sanitation. We can also use microfinancing and training to strengthen service providers for product delivery."

Should the program prove successful, the next stage, starting in 2012, would scale up the use of cocopeat products as a means of unlocking the power of decentralized wastewater treatment for wide-scale, community-based sanitation improvement.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.