As one of the founding organizers for Maker Faire Africa, I’ve had the privilege to be a part of this unfolding maker movement in Africa. To be honest, it’s been going on for a while, so I guess what we’re really doing is just aggregating it in a country, and shining a spotlight on some of the great practical innovation on the continent.
[Note: I originally wrote this post for Maker Faire Africa in Lagos this week, cross-posting it here]
Possibly one of the more unexpected products at Maker Faire Africa this year in Lagos is a urine powered generator, created by four girls. The girls are Duro-Aina Adebola (14), Akindele Abiola (14), Faleke Oluwatoyin (14) and Bello Eniola (15).
1 Liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity.
The system works like this:
Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder.
The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.
Along the whole way there are one-way valves for security, but let’s be honest that this is something of an explosive device…
Note: This is an experiment more than a real new tool for electricity generation. The net power output is negative due to the energy needed to get the hydrogen from the urine through electrolysis.
I’ve been blogging most of this on the Maker Faire Africa blog, so go there to find more posts on the stories from Lagos, Nigeria and the innovative and fun products made there.
The name William Kamkwamba might not sound familiar to many, but he is one of the most significant technology game changers in Africa. He did not design the most glamorous device on the planet, and neither was his creation unique. However, it was extremely significant.
Using just a book, Kamkwamba, now 25, designed and built a windmill that generated electricity and pumped water in his home village in Malawi. This was significant because he proved that it was possible to build things with instant grassroots impact that did not require a business plan, a website, a marketing strategy, a funding strategy or even a glamorous launch. He gained instant fame.
Kamkwamba managed to ensure that he could meet his immediate power needs using tree branches and scrap material. He was able to generate electricity and pump water using pure green energy. That was a decade ago.
Enter the future and a decade later, we have the Saphonian Blade-less wind turbines – another African design, this time from Tunisia. It focuses on clean energy.
The inventing company, Saphon Energy, led by Mr Anis Aouini, understood that older generation turbines, built in Europe, had some fundamental flaws that no-one had resolved.
For one, they generated a lot of noise and vibration. There is the unmistakable whirring, and if you live next to one, unless it is not in motion, you could have sleepless nights before getting used to the sound. They also unwittingly kill a lot of birds. Unaware birds collide with the blades and get killed.
Not the Saphonian. It has a sail shaped body, similar in concept to sails on a boat or dhow, which makes it bladeless. The unit does not have the famous rotating blades common with older generation turbines and windmills. Even better, the advantages are not limited to aesthetics or providing environment friendly energy. The Saphonian eliminates inefficiencies usually created by moving parts in a windmill.
The lack of blades and other rotating gears means that there is very little aerodynamic energy, and this results in improved power generation. It also reduces mechanical losses. Thus, the Saphonian has been found to be about 2.3 times more significantly efficient than conventional turbines and windmills. It also means that due to the hydraulic system, the Saphonian is able to store energy, which enables it to supply a steady flow of power, provided there is wind flowing or there is energy stored in the system.
In ordinary systems, whatever is generated has to be consumed instantly. National power grids usually supply the exact amount required. This means that when demand exceeds supply, there will be some places without power. On the other hand, excess energy, not being stored, would go to waste.
The storage capability of the Saphonian is therefore significant. Further, the equipment is cheaper to produce than conventional systems. It costs 45 per cent less to develop and deploy a Saphonian Blade-less turbine. With customisations, that cost could be further reduced.
Saphon Energy has tested a 300–500 Watt system as a prototype. It has performed better than was anticipated. The company is now focused on developing a second generation prototype that in many instances, will improve on the hydro-mechanical performance of the first generation unit.
What will matter for this development and its growth is how many national electricity providers deploying wind infrastructure decide to use this more cost effective technology. The Saphonian has proved that Africa can actually improve on previously available technologies that were not as efficient as they could have been.
For William Kamkwamba, this would be a climax to his dream, that affordable energy solutions developed in Africa could actually compete with foreign platforms and even outperform them.
As Africa struggles to meet electricity needs for a growing population, it is necessary for the continent to develop its own home solutions suited for the environment and the pocket. Convenient and relevant innovations such as the Saphonian stand a good chance.
It is no wonder therefore that the Saphonian has won its parent company the KPMG innovation Grant for 2012.
For the price of Kshs. 30 /= (EUR 0.27 or USD 0.35) you’ll manage to pick up this kerosine lamp from a kiosk in Kibera, Kenya:
Certainly a great visual update to the famous tin can paraffin lamp which sells for a slightly higher price and requires additional soldering. Kerosine (or paraffin) lamps are the alternative to modern solar LED lights, and also to the (otherwise great) daylight indoor illumination via filled water bottles (invented by Alfredo Mozer in Brazil in 2002).
Here’s a call to all AfriGadget innovators to submit their “appropriate technical solutions” (= products and service ideas) to an international competition which was recently initiated by Siemens Stiftung (Foundation):
“We are looking for relatively simple, appropriate technical products and solutions in the categories Water & Waste Water, Energy, Food & Agriculture, Waste Management & Recycling, Healthcare, Housing & Construction and Information & Communication Technology in order to fulfil basic needs of people in developing and emerging countries. Each product or solution to be submitted has to be either already implemented in a project or needs at least a prototype with a proof of concept.”
“The project also aims to build up a database of inventions that is accessible to actors in developmental cooperation.”, the FAQ go on explaining. This actually really is the sweetest part next to the 50k EUR prize for the 1st winner, because such a database on inventions is often asked for. Here’s a good example of such a database, initiated by Engineering for Change (E4C). Let’s hope they’ll also open it up to the public and not only keep it accessible to dev aid coops only.
They also address the issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and state that “all intellectual properties will remain with the developer/ developing team”. This is an important step because many innovators actually don’t want submit their ideas to such competitions which are often only for pooling smart ideas – and then cashing in on the potential. For those of you who are looking for some historical explanations of IPR in many African countries, here’s an interesting paper on the topic by Kenyan economist James Shikwati (ex 2004, though).
Utamu wa kazi ni…
Talking about empowering innovations that turn into businesses, here’s a smart approach ex Tanzania: Global Cycle Solutions, a “social enterprise working to disseminate affordable, quality technology for villagers around the world”.
“Uhm, a social enterprise?”, you may ask. Social enterprises may not be on everyone’s agenda when it comes to traditional business, but their products, man, the products are sweet – and hence qualify to be mentioned as AfriGadget solutions (with such a delay, considering that the following product was launched in 2009 – apologies!):
GCS Maize Sheller Kit
A detachable maize sheller kit that fills a 90kg sack of maize in 40 minutes and which may be removed for transport. The machine is said to pay for itself within a month and costs 60 US-$. The project also reminds us of the many other “bicycle-related” blog posts on AfriGadget. Bicycles certainly are the multi-machines in many African countries.
Or how about the GCS Bicycle-powered Kiwia Phone Charger?
So there you have it – local products that also sell. How? On their blog, GCS write: “…GCS has finally figured out a sales model that works for us. With a car and PA system, and a nice spacious tent, we are having profitable road shows at the time…”.
Have a smart business idea that you’d like to cash in and which would qualify for the “empowering people. Award”? Then hurry up and submit your entry up to December 31, 2012! All winners of the competition will be announced in summer 2013. Good luck!