So the Scion Research team turned to a technology that is fairly well known in large-scale applications (it’s used in mining and also sewage treatment), which they think could work well if innovative methods are used to downsize it. The method is called wet oxidation. Essentially, it works by taking waste and adding oxygen and then putting everything under pressure and gently heating it to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

“What would happen in that environment over a period of an hour is that organic material will oxidize. It gets converted to carbon dioxide and water. Just heating under oxygen pressure. It’s quite amazing,” says Gapes. The byproduct is completely sterile—a clear liquid that can be treated and passed through a filtration membrane to produce purified water and an ash that contains a high content of phosphorous, a chemical element used in fertilizer.