Written by Miranda Marquit
Photo: Skinnyde, Creative Commons, Flickr
In developing countries there are serious challenges to providing cheap and environmentally-friendly sources of electricity and clean drinking water. But Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, wants to try to overcome them. Recently he unveiled two of his latest projects at the Lux Executive Summit: an electricity generator that runs on cow waste and a water filtration system. Green Tech reports on the reasoning behind Kamen's efforts:
Kamen said that addressing the basic needs--such as water and power--of the very poorest people would prevent millions of deaths a year and make a huge impact on environmental problems. He said 1.1 billion people don't have access to safe drinking water and 1.6 billion lack access to electricity.
Making electricity from cow pies:
There has been speculation for quite some time about using methane from cow waste to power generators. Indeed, some farms derive their energy from such waste products. Kamen's invention, called the Deka Stirling Engine, is meant to be relatively portable and to generate power cheaply for those in third-world countries. The engine can also be adapted to power an electric car.
Kamen's water filtration set-up is designed to work with the "black box" Stirling Engine. There are no filters, charcoal or chemicals used in the system. 100 people can be served with one kilowatt of power.
However, there are still expenses associated with these systems, and many companies are not interested in helping some of the world's poorest people, especially during times of economic crisis. Another problem is that small projects like these do not seem massive enough, even though deploying them could bring about serious change. Green Tech reports Kamen's lament:
'They don't think that little boxes like this is what big organizations do,' Kamen said. 'It's not the technology, it's the mindset. The 21st century is now stockpiling great technologies but it's going to take, I'm afraid, a long time before people at the top...understand that we got to change the way we do things to get to 4 billion people.'
At any rate, the new inventions look promising. Unfortunately, they could get shunted aside like so much of the technology we have now. Unless we start seriously investing in the technology we have - and letting it lead us to new technologies - we will soon find that we are missing out on the benefits that we could all be sharing.