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10 Everyday Technologies That Can Change the World [Discover]
Who knew that providing energy and water for all could be a matter of foot cranks and dirt power?
by Karen Rowan; extra reporting by Andrew Grant

Pelton Turbine
Photo by Xeni Jardin

A garden hose, a tin can, duct tape, metal piping, kitchen cleaner, and gasoline: That is all television icon MacGyver needed to make a flame-thrower to ward off a swarm of killer ants. In the real world, technologies that are affordable and practical are not so simple to create, but they can make a huge impact on people’s lives. Instead of calling on complex solutions (reliant on engines and imported resources) for low-tech problems (such as cooking and lighting), some researchers are now developing what they call “confluent” technologies—ones that are effective, affordable, and sustainable for use in the developing world. Here’s a look at the latest breakthroughs:
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2 Micro-Hydroelectric Power
Hilly land streaked with small streams makes an ideal spot for micro-hydroelectric power generators, each of which requires a meager water flow of just three gallons per second to turn. (To put this in perspective, the Mississippi’s average flow at New Orleans is about 4.4 million gallons per second.) The Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) has helped to build three systems in Guatemala, and more communities are now saving up money for local installations.
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4 Wind Power on $2 a Day
Who said wind turbines have to spin? Shawn Frayne, founder of Humdinger Wind Energy, developed a turbine-less generator that harnesses energy from the rapid wind-induced vibration (50 cycles per second) of a seven-to-ten-foot flap of taffeta fabric. This is the same phenomenon—aeroelastic flutter—that civil engineers try to eliminate so bridges don’t sway in the wind, and on a small scale, it greatly increases the efficiency of capturing power from wind for a very small cost, says Frayne. “For people making a dollar or two a day, it could be in the realm of possibility to have electricity,” says Peter Haas of AIDG, who is helping Frayne test the generators in Guatemala. Depending on wind conditions, the generators can be positioned to power efficient lights in a few rooms on small electrical grids. Frayne hopes to make the product available within a few years.
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6 Solar Water Heater
Solar water heaters are generally expensive (they can cost $400–$1,000), barring easy access to hot water for many who are far from an electric grid. But engineer Ashok Gadgil at the University of California, Berkeley, working with AIDG, cut back on materials and came up with a solar heater that costs $100. It can produce 26 gallons of water warmed to 104 degrees Fahrenheit by 4 p.m. each day—enough for four showers. Tests are ongoing in Guatemala, after which the team plans to fine-tune the design and begin distribution.

Check out the rest of the article for info on energy in a bucket of dirt, biodigesters, sunlight stored in LEDs, pedal-powered grid, sugarcane charcoal, irrigation by foot, and chlorine from salt.

Discover Magazine will be profiling us in their October issue. Stay tuned for that piece.

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