Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, has invented two new devices, each about the size of a washing machine, that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages.
The water purifier makes 1,000 liters of clean water a day from any water source, even sewage. The power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns.
The prototypes cost about $100,000 but eventually he hopes to mass produce them for about $1000 to $2000 which he will lease to local entrepreneurs, who will resell the power and water to local rural villagers in third world countries. The market potential is huge – about 1.1 billion people in the world don't have access to clean drinking water, and another 1.6 billion don't have electricity.
Last year, prototypes of Kamen's power machines were installed in two villages in Bangladesh for a six-month field trial Using cow dung as the power source, each machine can continuously output a kilowatt of electricity- enough to light 70 energy-efficient bulbs.
The business model is interesting too-- village entrepreneurs (mostly women) will be given micro-loans to purchase the power generator and water filter systems. The women, in turn, charge other villagers for power and water. During the field trial, Kamen's power 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.
According to CNN:
Kamen thinks the same approach can work with his water-cleaning machine, which he calls the Slingshot. 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.
Sounds like a good plan for community self sufficiency in the first world too.
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