By Abigail Bender and Menka Suresh
A new way to convert human waste into cryptocurrency was showcased during the Manhattan Theatre Festival in December 2022. The process involves a high-efficiency toilet developed in South Korea by Dr. Jaewon Cho. The tech was showcased in front of an audience of around 50 people during the second iteration of the festival, which connects science and performance arts.
Transforma Theatre in Manhattan the their second annual Science in Theatre Festival in December 2022 and brought its audience to experience the science of water sustainability, lucid dreaming, and modern egg freezing through short one act plays. The plays were created by pairing a playwright with a scientist.
“I was very inspired by the intersection between science and theater presented onstage, and how unexpectedly seamless it was,” Emily White, an audience member, said after attending the festival.
On the second night of the festival, the performance Can’t Make This Sh*t Up, featuring Cho’s research, followed a group of people living together in Connecticut. The story discusses a real life invention: a toilet that recycles human waste into energy. The BeeVi becomes important for the characters after a hurricane strikes the town, wrecking the sewer system. The group decides this is their opportunity to invest in the BeeVi toilet rather than the traditional system.
“I have never written a work about science before and I was absolutely terrified! No joke,” Julia Rosenblatt, playwright of Can’t Make This Sh*t Up said.
Right after the performance, the audience watched a presentation on the science in the play by Cho and then a panel discussion with scientists, innovators, and artists in the field of water sustainability.
“[The] Science in Theatre festival was like a kind of prize to me with my work, as I found people [who] are watching our activities with BeeVi” Cho, who is a researcher from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea (UNIST), said after viewing the play via live streaming.
Cho’s research is more advanced than just turning waste into energy. His development is also efficient and only uses 10% of the water used by traditional toilets. The toilet and the recycling system were used to turn human waste into a crypto currency, exchangeable for food at UNIST dining halls. While research on the BeeVi toilet lost funding in 2021, the Beevi toilet cryptocurrency system is still up and running in the science cabin inside the UNIST campus.
There is a long process that is required by the government to use any new technology.
“Once that [policy reform] happens that’s really when you see transformational change in the water reuse landscape across the US” Noemi Florea, a private researcher who is developing a potable gray water recycling system, said.
Florea’s water recycling systems for potable uses are not legally allowed by US building codes yet.. Her goal is to test her prototype’s removal and efficiency of contaminants monitored by the EPA to be able to present her findings to policy makers.
During the festival, audiences were asked to think out of the box in their own lives.
“If you dare to ask out there questions you’re going to get out there answers” Tjasa Ferme, founder of the Science in Theatre Festival, said.
Ferme’s next event is a Valentine’s day immersive experience involving improvisational theatre, conflict resolution, and intimacy building exercises.