Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards 2006

Full Belly Project Peanut Sheller While searching for information on Dean Kamen’s water purification system in Honduras (Thanks Aman), I came across the the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards for 2006.

Winners with appropriate tech applications are:

  • Michael Bowers, James McBride and Sandra Rosenthal for research on brighter, whiter LEDs.
  • Jock Brandis, co-founder of the Full Belly Project for his super duper peanut sheller. You can crank out 125 lbs an hour. Cost: $75.

For the sake of thoroughness and comparison, here are the winners in the environmental, cool, but oh so pricey category.

  • Richard Bourgeois and the General Electric Electrolyzer Team built a “prototype electrolyzer [which] cuts the equipment cost of using electricity to grab hydrogen from H2O… The result? A kilogram of hydrogen — the energy equivalent of roughly a gallon of gas — costs $3 instead of the current $6 to $8.”
  • The climate energy Micro-CHP system provides both heat and power. The big problen, the price: $13,500.
  • Martin Eberhard and team designed the The Tesla Motors Roadster, a $100,000 electric sports car can go 250 miles between charges. Si belle qu’elle me fait souffrir.

I’m poking fun at them, but prices will go down. Think how much the first supercomputer, which has only a fraction of the computing power of your jankiest PC, cost in the 60’s and 70’s.

Solar ovens and security

Children leaving the IDP camp to gather firewood
Photo by Ron Haviv

One of my former profs, Paul Farmer, gave a speech at the opening session of the Annual American Public Health Association conference earlier this month. A major theme of his talk was the need for pragmatism in the conception and delivery of public health and human rights. He was trying to drive home a very good point about what guarenteeing the right to health actually means in practical terms. It means that operating suites, sutures, clean drapes and generators need to be available in hospitals. It also means that food, clean water, and education need to be available on a wide scale. Paul’s overarching message is that you need a wide-angle view of the problem to find adequate long-lasting solutions.

I bring this up because Pete and I were having a discussion about how solar ovens could be useful in the refugee camps in Chad and Sudan. What does the right to security of person have to do with solar ovens? Well, women and girls are often harrassed, assaulted or raped when they leave the confines of the refugee camp to search for firewood/cook fuel. Providing them with an alternative fuel source/way of cooking could greatly reduce their risks of being targeted. (This of course does not deal with the larger issue of why such gender-based violence occurs, but could keep women safe in the short-term.)

The bottom line is that to adequately guarantee an individual’s rights, you need that wide-angle view.

FYI: Here is one solution that the UNHCR has tried. “To prevent violence against refugee women, UNHCR has put in place organized deliveries of firewood inside the camp, but some women venture out anyway.” Link. This last line unwittingly implies that “beyond all sense and reason, the women go out anyway”. The case is probably that the logistics of distribution make it difficult for get fuel to everyone when they need it the most. People end up making due the best that they can and unfortunately this includes putting themselves at grave personal risk.

Jay-Z and the Water for Life Campaign

Rapper JayZ and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

In my picks for last week’s Top 10 blog posts, I mentioned that rapper Jay Z was getting involved with the UN Water for Life Campaign.

Check out out video from his recent trips to Luanda, Angola and Durban, South Africa. Note: The video player on the MTV site works best in IE.

One thing that the videos show that is very striking is just how long water collection takes. In many countries, water (and firewood for that matter) collection are women’s work. The young Angolan girl interviewed spends four hours a day – between 6am and 10am – fetching water. Access to nearby clean water sources would not only reduce disease rates, but would also free up time that could be used for other purposes like school, work or just plain old play.

The other thing I appreciated was JayZ’s realization that all the bombast and bluster from rappers about being from the hood was absurd in the face of far greater hardship. “We’re not from the hood, by no means,” he says, “not even close”.

Pete and Benny building GR's $350 DIY Solar Heater at Yestermorrow

Build a solar heater for $350

I just saw a link to this on Treehugger and it reminded me to mention that Pete and Benny will be teaching a course at Yestermorrow next week. They will be building Gary Reysa’s $350 DIY Solar Heater, a hydraulic ram pump and an appleseed biodiesel reactor as well as giving tip and tricks on axial flux windmill design. They will also be giving some hands on experience with micro-hydroelectric system components.

Date: Dec 3-8, 2006
Duration: 1 week
Location: Yestermorrow, Design and Build School, Warren, VT 05674
Speakers: Peter Haas, AIDG’s Executive Director and Benny Lee, AIDG’s Education and Outreach Director

Course Description:
Many people assume that renewable energy systems are out of their price range and technologically complex. That doesn’t have to be the case. This new week-long course will present several low cost, low tech options for introducing renewable energy systems and ecological design strategies into your home. Class lectures will cover a variety of systems, including hydroelectricity, wind power, biodigesters, solar hot water, water filtration units, high efficiency stoves, and small-scale foundries. In addition, students will gain hands-on experience with three renewable energy systems: using ram pumps to move water, building a basic greenhouse for add-on passive solar home heating, and creating a biodiesel reactor to produce energy from waste vegetable oil for home heating and vehicle use. The instructors will also discuss the application of these technologies in a developing country context.

Click here to register for the course.

Detailed instructions on building Reysa’s solar heater
Extra Info from Mother Earth News
Other great stuff from Homepower magazine *** Highly recommended

We're 5 by 5, ya know: 5 reasons and 5 ways to support AIDG

Mother and Child
Photo by Deborah Coleman

While you’re thinking about which charities to support this holiday season, I would ask that you consider AIDG in your giving plans. Below are 5 reasons and 5 ways to support us and the work that we do.

5 reasons to support AIDG

  1. Environment. Nearly 2 billion people don’t have access to the basic modern services that we take for granted everyday – electricity, sanitation and clean water. The AIDG works to increase access to affordable, environmentally sound and locally repairable technologies that solve these needs for underserved communities and the rural poor.

  2. Sustainability. A key part of our strategy is the incubation of local businesses that produce, install and repair clean technologies at prices affordable within the local economy. These businesses ensure sustainble and long-term success of infrastructure improvements and are a source of economic development within the community.

  3. Improved Health and Poverty Alleviation. Development of basic services is essential to helping individuals escape the poverty trap. Most, if not all, of the technologies offered by our incubated businesses offer longterm cost savings, reduced environmental impact and/or improved health effects compared with currently used solutions.

  4. Small input, big reward. Through the purchase of a simple, low-cost technology such as biodigester, water purifier, or high efficiency stove, poor familes can experience dramatic improvements to their standard of living, health and self-sufficiency.

  5. Empowerment. We empower people with the physical tools and practical knowledge to solve infrastructure problems in their own communities.

But don’t take our word for it. Read what other people are saying about us:
World Changing
Fast Company

5 things you can do to support AIDG right now

  1. Sign up to be a Pledge Partner for $10 bucks a month. That’s only 33 cents a day and would make a HUGE difference for our organization. We’re very good at making a little go a long way.

  2. If you don’t want to make a recurring donation, consider a one-time gift for the holidays.
  3. Link to us or donate ad space on your site. We made some pretty cool banners this past weekend. Like this one:

    Help AIDG build a sustainable future in developing countries

  4. Tell your friends about us. Get them to subscribe to our newsletter or RSS feed on the blog. If you are a blogger, write a piece about us on your own blog. Word of mouth is crucial to getting more folks aware of the great work that we do.

    Spread the Word

  5. Buy gear on our Cafepress store. We’re got very cool stuff for you, your fam, your pals, your dog. Here is some of our kids stuff:
    AIDG Kids stuff on Cafe Press

On behalf of all the AIDG crew and the team at XelaTeco, let me just say thanks for making 2006 such a good year.

Oh and yeah: I did manage to put in a shameless plug for our org and quote Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in one go. All in a days work 😉

Late Notice: 2 AIDG Lectures

We’ve got two talks scheduled this week, one at Yale, the other at Tufts. If you are in the neighborhood of either, please do stop by.

Entrepreneurship as a Tool for Sustainable Int’l Dev

Date: Wednesday, 11/29/06
Time: 6:30 pm
Location: Yale School of Management, Rm A46, New Haven, CT
Speaker: Benny Lee, AIDG’s Education and Outreach Director
Sponsored by the Yale SOM Entrepreneurship Club. Pizza provided.
Other Entrepreneurship Club events

Micro-enterprise & Sustainable Technology in Guatemala

Date: Thursday, 11/30/06
Time: 8:00 pm
Location: Tufts University, Cabot 205, Somerville/Medford Campus, MA
Speakers: Benny Lee, AIDG’s Education and Outreach Director; Erin Fried; Lisa Silberstein
Organic Guatemalan coffee and chocolate tasting.

fountain_of_z's News for 2006-11-28

More Del.icio.us Links from Pete Zink

A few new things on the blog page

I added four new useful things on the blog page this past weekend. Check out the left sidebar.

  1. Links AIDG has most recently bookmarked on del.icio.us
  2. A random selection of photos from our Flickr account
  3. A search this blog feature (Thanks Pete)
  4. A way to translate the blogpages into other languages (I got the idea from Jeff at sustainablog).

As soon as I figure out how to do it, I will be adding automatic posts from Pete Zink’s del.icio.us account (fountain_of_z)where he bookmarks his favorite environmental news stories of the day.

How much is 5 tons of C02 anyway?

The Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator lets you translate reductions of C02 or other green houses gas measured in tons, pounds, kilograms and metric tons into units that are “easier to conceptualize”.

For instance, a 5 ton reduction of C02 is equivalent to one of the following:

  • 517 gallons of gasoline or
  • About 1 passenger car not being driven for one year or
  • A household’s electricity use for 6 months or
  • 11 barrels of crude oil or
  • … the list goes on

Thanks Adam.