08/16/2012 08:36 pm ET | Updated Jan 07, 2013

'Toilet Of The Future' Prize Goes To Caltech's Solar-Powered Toilet (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

Would you be surprised to hear that some of the smartest scientists in the country are working on developing a new toilet?

Well it's about time. "No innovation in 200 years has saved more lives than the toilet," the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation states. "But 2.6 billion people still don’t have a safe, affordable way to poop."

About two-thirds of people on Earth use latrines or defecate out in the open, and 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year because of sanitation problems, the site says.

Which is why the Gates hosted a "Reinvent the Toilet Fair" in Seattle this week. After viewing demonstrations of quite creative toilets (photos below) from scientists across the US, the Gates awarded a team from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) the first place award--$100,000--for a toilet that truly "gets sh*t done"."

Caltech's incredible commode resuses water and turns urine and feces into fertilizer for crops and into hydrogen that can be used as a backup energy source, as lead researcher Michael Hoffman explains in the video above. No expensive sewer system need; no water source needed.

Perhaps most remarkable of all -- it runs on solar power. Kind of like the solar-powered car that Hoffman and his Caltech colleagues happen to also be working on (!).

And because water and energy are scarce even in developed countries like the US, these toilets have the potential to be the new "it" product of the West as well. Check back in 15 months after Hoffman and his team have worked on ways to distribute the loos cheaply.

Also working on the "Toilet of the Future" will be the second place winners (at the Loughborough University in the United Kingdom), who won $60,000 to continue developing a toilet that turns excrement into charcoal. Third place winners (at the University of Toronto in Canada) were awarded $40,000 and will be working on a toilet that treats excrement and recovers resources and clean water.

Check out photos of the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair in Seattle:

"Reinventing The Toilet" Fair