Most of us take clean, fresh water and always-on electricity for granted. About 20% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. Another 25% don’t have access to electricity. That means over 1.2 billion people are without drinkable water and about 1.6 billion without electricity (source). That is hard to believe when you consider we live in a modern age with every convenience under the sun available to many of us.
For most of these people, a drink of clean water or even enough electricity to light a bulb would be luxuries. Most diseases in undeveloped countries could be wiped out with a fresh water supply. With a few electrical conveniences, many could become more productive and enjoy a healthier life.
What are the solutions to these problems? Many experts still believe in the old methods. That is; build power plants and water treatment facilities. These solutions take many years to build and require loads of infrastructure. In many rural areas, this is not a practical solution. These people are so poor that they could not pay for any municipal power or water supplies to begin with. But there are several quick fixes for both of these problems.
Mega-inventor Dean Kamen and the founder of Grameen Phone, Iqbal Quadir, have joined forces to bring the 21st century to undeveloped countries. Kamen has redeveloped the Stirling Engine using updated technology. This engine was originally invented in the 19th century by Robert Stirling. This non-polluting device can create electricity and enough heat to distill contaminated water.
Kamen has also invented a water purifying machine called the Slingshot. Both of these incredible inventions are about the size of a washing machine and can be set up anywhere. A Stirling machine can use a variety of fuels for power and produces one kilowatt of power in a day. In a recent test, several machines were used to provide electricity in remote villages in Bangladesh. For 22 weeks, each machine used only cow dung for fuel while emitting little or no pollutants. The water machine can purify about 1,000 liters of contaminated water per day. All that is required is for someone to pour in any type of polluted water and let the Slingshot do the rest.
Quadir will lease the technology from Deka Research, which is Kamen’s company. Quadir is involved in a startup company called Emergence Energy. It is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He wants to raise $30 million in venture capital and start producing the power machines. Kamen believes that the Slingshot could be paired with the Stirling machine. It would use the waste heat to vaporize impure water to separate out the harmful components.
But the real benefits will come through entrepreneurial ingenuity. With each machine that is put into use, many jobs will be created. Someone to run the machine and sell the electricity would be one job. Another to collect the fuel and sell it to the operator. And still another person to lease electrical appliances. Still more jobs could be created for maintenance and repair and providing loans for leasing or buying appliances. As the number of machines in operation grows, more jobs can be added.
The vision of both men is to have 100’s of thousands of each of these machines placed in villages or where ever there is a need. Compared to waiting decades for electric or water plants to be constructed, this is an instant solution for many parts of the world. We consider electricity, water, and jobs to be essential components of our everyday lives. Democracy and the spirit of free enterprise are about to make those dreams come true for millions more around the globe.