A professor at South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), presumably fed up with students at the university flushing their money down the drain, has come up with a system that manages to reverse that action.
Cho Jae-weon, UNIST's professor of urban and environmental engineering, has created a toilet that rewards users with a digital currency that can be exchanged for fruit, coffee, food, and books on the institute campus.
The eco-friendly convenience – dubbed the BeeVi, a portmanteau of the words "bee" and "vision" – uses a vacuum pump to send human waste to an underground tank, where it is broken down into methane and manure. The former is used to help power university buildings, while the latter is used on a nearby university garden.
The idea behind the system is that these outputs have a monetary value since they offset the university's energy bills and help grow plants. So the BeeVi toilet financially rewards students who make, um, deposits.
To reflect the value of the waste which goes into the toilet, Cho has created a digital currency called Ggool (the Korean word for honey). Users of the toilet scan a QR code on the cubicle wall with their phones, which links to a digital wallet containing their Ggool balance. This can then be exchanged for various products on campus.
"If we think out of the box, faeces has precious value to make energy and manure. I have put this value into ecological circulation," Professor Cho told Reuters.
Users can earn up to 10 Ggool a day for their efforts, although since it is not entirely clear what the exchange rate is between the Ggool and the South Korean Won, we cannot guarantee that you will get your investment back in hard currency if you need to spend a jeon on the UNIST campus.
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The BeeVil/Ggool craptocurrency system has won a positive reception from the student body. Alarmingly positive, in some cases.
"I had only ever thought that faeces are dirty, but now it is a treasure of great value to me," postgraduate student Heo Hui-jin said. "I even talk about faeces during mealtimes to think about buying any book I want."
We hope something was lost in translation there.
While the BeeVi toilet may seem like a novel idea, Professor Cho was partially beaten to it by none other than Douglas Adams, who suggested a similar system in his Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series, only with one major difference.
Adams invented a beautiful planet called Bethselamin whose immense beauty was being destroyed by crowds of tourists, leading the planetary authorities to use extreme methods to curb the problem:
The net balance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave; so every time you go to the lavatory there, it is vitally important to get a receipt.
Since each person produces an average of 500g of solid waste per day, you could find such a system literally costing you an arm and a leg in very short order. Fortunately, Professor Cho has no plans to add a surgical element to his system at the present time.
Elon Musk has thus far remained silent on the subject of the Ggool and it is unclear what would happen if the Tesla and SpaceX billionaire began taking an interest in it. But given its lavatorial exchange rate, it would probably be unwise for anyone to attempt to pump and dump this particular currency. ®