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Respecting All Animals
Clean Water from Sewage - From the Creator of the Segway 
3rd-Jun-2006 04:27 pm
What do you think?

Segway creator unveils his next act
Inventor Dean Kamen wants to put entrepreneurs to work bringing water and electricity to the world's poor.
By Erick Schonfeld, Business 2.0 Magazine editor-at-large
February 16, 2006: 2:06 PM EST

San Francisco (Business 2.0) - Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, is puzzling over a new equation these days. An estimated 1.1 billion people in the world don't have access to clean drinking water, and an estimated 1.6 billion don't have electricity. Those figures add up to a big problem for the world—and an equally big opportunity for entrepreneurs.

To solve the problem, he's invented two devices, each about the size of a washing machine that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages.

"Eighty percent of all the diseases you could name would be wiped out if you just gave people clean water," says Kamen. "The water purifier makes 1,000 liters of clean water a day, and we don't care what goes into it. And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns."

Light in the darkness
Kamen is not alone in his quest. He's been joined by Iqbal Quadir, the founder of Grameen Phone, the largest cell phone company in Bangladesh. Last year, Quadir took prototypes of Kamen's power machines to two villages in his home country for a six-month field trial. That trial, which ended last September, sold Quadir on the technology.

So much so in fact that Quadir's startup, Cambridge, Mass.-based Emergence Energy, is negotiating with Kamen's Deka Research and Development to license the technology. Quadir then hopes to raise $30 million in venture capital to start producing the power machines. (With the exception of the Segway, which Kamen's own company sold, Kamen has typically licensed his inventions to others.)

The electric generator is powered by an easily-obtained local fuel: cow dung. Each machine continuously outputs a kilowatt of electricity. That may not sound like much, but it is enough to light 70 energy-efficient bulbs. As Kamen puts it, "If you judiciously use a kilowatt, each villager can have a nighttime."

A satellite picture of the earth at night shows swaths of darkness across Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. For the people living there, a simple light bulb would mean an extension of both their productivity and their leisure times.

Entrepreneurial power
The real invention here, though, may be the economic model that Kamen and Quadir hope to use to distribute the machines. It is fashioned after Grameen Phone's business, where village entrepreneurs (mostly women) are given micro-loans to purchase a cell phone and service. The women, in turn, charge other villagers to make calls.

"We have 200,000 rural entrepreneurs who are selling telephone services in their communities," notes Quadir. "The vision is to replicate that with electricity."

During the test in Bangladesh, Kamen's Stirling machines created three entrepreneurs in each village: one to run the machine and sell the electricity, one to collect dung from local farmers and sell it to the first entrepreneur, and a third to lease out light bulbs (and presumably, in the future, other appliances) to the villagers.

Kamen thinks the same approach can work with his water-cleaning machine, which he calls the Slingshot. While the Slingshot wasn't part of Quadir's trial in Bangladesh, Kamen thinks it can be distributed the same way. "In the 21st century, water will be delivered by an entrepreneur," he predicts.

The Slingshot works by taking in contaminated water – even raw sewage -- and separating out the clean water by vaporizing it. It then shoots the remaining sludge back out a plastic tube. Kamen thinks it could be paired with the power machine and run off the other machine's waste heat.

Compared to building big power and water plants, Kamen's approach has the virtue of simplicity. He even created an instruction sheet to go with each Slingshot. It contains one step: Just add water, any water. Step two might be: add an entrepreneur.

"Not required are engineers, pipelines, epidemiologists, or microbiologists," says Kamen. "You don't need any -ologists. You don't need any building permits, bribery, or bureaucracies."

The price of freedom
Still, even if some of the technical challenges have been solved ("I know the technology works and I'd fall on my sword to prove it," insists Kamen), the economic challenges still loom.

Kamen's goal is to produce machines that cost $1,000 to $2,000 each. That's a far cry from the $100,000 that each hand-machined prototype cost to build.

Quadir is going to try and see if the machines can be produced economically by a factory in Bangladesh. If the numbers work out, not only does he think that distributing them in a decentralized fashion will be good business -- he also thinks it will be good public policy. Instead of putting up a 500-megawatt power plant in a developing country, he argues, it would be much better to place 500,000 one-kilowatt power plants in villages all over the place, because then you would create 500,000 entrepreneurs.

"Isn't that better for democracy?" Quadir asks. "We see a shortage of democracy in the world, and we are surprised. If you strengthen the economic hands of people, you will foster real democracy."

Lights, water, freedom. Now that's entrepreneurial.
3rd-Jun-2006 08:47 pm (UTC)
my reaction is "cool" and "gross"....

do you think they would use it in america... decontaminate water here incl. farms?/factories/etc.... hmm.... I wonder all the applications and their "consequences"......

(also, I thought someone said drinking water that doesn't contain the good minerals, etc was bad because it absorbs them from your body as it passes through.. ??)
4th-Jun-2006 11:38 pm (UTC) - In Some Places
In some places it would be very useful, particularly aerid, but not so hot places. In tropical and hot places, it still seems too complicated and too expensive IMO.

The output is not high enough for factories and farms. They use far too much water. For personal drinking it's fine.

On my visit to the Philippines, I saw everyone drinking bottled water, though it rained buckets 2x/day for about 20 minutes. I have no idea why they don't capture the water in a bucket and quickly bottle it.

Then there is the sun. The "vaporization" process used in the Segway device is simple distillation. In warm climates like parts of Asia, India & Africa, solar and mechanical power could be enough for distillation.

To boil 1 Liter of water you will need about 400kj of energy. For an engine that outputs 1kw, it would take theoretically 8 minutes. But you could use less power and just take longer, provided you had good insulation.

A simplier device would be an aluminum pan with a large surface area encased in a transparent enclosure Underneath is a thermoelectric device like the kind in those portable car fridges. It's essentially a heat pump. It pumps heat from one side of the device to the other. IOW, one side gets hot, the other side gets cold. It does require some electricity, but it's more efficient than a heat engine where you burn things [1]

Water drips onto the pan at a slow rate such that only enough water that can be purified/minute is heated. The sun helps heat the water, and the hot side of the TE device does the rest. The water evaporates, diffussed through an opening to the cold side and condenses.

So long as you can purify 2-4l/person/day, that's all you need.

The electricity for the device could be generated from solar, wind, mechanical, people power or you could burn dung directly for the distillation.

Prefiltering before distillation, or keeping rainwater to distill would make it more efficient. It would not cost $1000, maybe $100-$250.

IMNSHO, the problem with much of the world and this idea of the global economy is that everyone is so onbsessed with commerce that no one teaches people to be self-sufficient with the resources they have; they need to *buy* something instead of using what they have.


[1] most of the time when you feel heat, you are wasting "work" energy.
3rd-Jun-2006 09:00 pm (UTC)
not sure how relevant to veganism it is, but it's definitely very cool.

I don't really see them using it in the US, at least not anytime soon, unless it can support the much larger scale of the electricity demand here (we're running on a little more than one light bulb per household, and we have large cities with several million people in them), and unless the existing companies that rely on water purification and energy generating schemes were willing for a turnover, but I don't really know the facts, so I could just be a pessimist ;-p.
3rd-Jun-2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
well, i guess i was thinking of the vegan ->environmental reasons->water pollution/shortage. of course water pollution/stortage is just one aspect of factory farming...
4th-Jun-2006 07:07 am (UTC)
Very true. I think that, as it stands, it could save very many lives in poor nations. As the technology develops - as it must - it will become more and more relevent to wealthy nations, especially in agriculture, where water is a major concern. It is something to keep an eye on for sure.
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