Low-tech smarts
Entrepreneurs cast a fresh eye on some old problems

Solar disinfection is not new - researchers discovered its effectiveness about 30 years ago. But if it's so easy, why isn't it  
more widespread?" The problem is; it's so simple, people don't think it's going to work," says Charlie Matlack, a doctoral  
student in electrical engineering at the University of Washington. Matlack is also president of Pota Vida, a start-up that aims  
to increase the use of this process.

He designed an inexpensive device, the Pota Vida, that attaches to bottles. The small solar- powered circuit measures how  
much light comes through the bottle, and it has an LED indicator to monitor the disinfection process. "It's like using the guts  
that you would find in a solar- powered calculator," he says.

Matlack and his team are still refining Pota Vida's design so people will know how to - and want to - use the device. A team  
member brought a mechanical mock-up to Nicaragua last summer and found that local residents had questions of their  
own. "People want to know, 'Does it make me look rich, do people want to steal it, does it fit in culturally:" Matlack says.

"Ir's critical," he notes, "to not get too focused on a technological feature that you think will solve the problem."
In many places, the simplest needs - clean water, efficient sanitation, sterile medical equipment - can he the most difficult  
to meet. Take a look at three start-ups that have embraced practical designs that cater to people without reliable access to  
electricity and other infrastructure, offering smart yet low-tech solutions to high-stakes problems.


Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Sanergy is tackling sanitation issues in developing nations with a multi step approach: building a  
network of clean toilets, finding local entrepreneurs to manage them, collecting the waste, and converting it to fertilizer that  
can then be sold.

"In the slums, it's common for people to pay 3 to 5 shillings [about 3 to 5 cents, in US. dollars) per toilet use - even for pit  
latrines," says David Auerbach, a Sanergy co founder who graduated from the Sloan School of Management at the  
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The entrepreneurs who operate Sanergy's toilets (under the brand name Fresh Life)  
will continue to charge a fee, but toilet users will enjoy a more hygienic experience.

Unlike pit latrines, Fresh Life toilets will be emptied daily and offer toilet paper and hand-washing facilities.

Cleanliness wasn't the only requirement for the Fresh Life toilet's design. The team knew it had to be inexpensive and  
compact. ("Space comes at a premium in a slum," Auerbach notes.) In 2010, Sanergy installed two prototype toilets, which  
cost less than $200 each to construct, in Nairobi's Mukuru slum. The company has trained people to work as Fresh Life  
franchisees, and Auerbach expected that by now, it would be building 60 toilets in Nairobi to serve 5,000 residents.
Sanergy received the grand prize in MIT's $ lOO K Business Plan Competition last year, along with the $5,000 Audience  
Choice Award. It also won the $12,500 grand prize in the University of Washington's Global Social Entrepreneurship  
Competition as well as that competition's prize for social impact, worth $1,000. To be eligible for that award. Sanergy's  
founders met with the Rotary clubs of Nairobi Park-lands and Cambridge, Mass., USA, which led to an unexpected benefit:  
Anju Paunrana, a member of the Nairobi Park-lands club, works in her family's mining business, which has a cement  
division. "We've been able to buy cement at wholesale prices, even though we're quite a small operation," Auerbach says.

Though he's happy about the awards, Auerbach knows that the people who use Fresh Life toilets will decide whether  
Sanergy succeeds. So the company is also working on a better way to dean out pit latrines, which can be up to 13 feet  
deep; waste is often scooped out with shovels and buckets, an unpleasant task. Sanergy is testing a bicycle-powered  
pump that would suck the waste out of the law~ "Our goal is to take people who operate pit latrines and convert them into  
Sanergy toilet operators," Auerbach says. "But in the meantime, we need to show them the value of what we're doing. And  
part of that is if you have a cleaner latrine, you'll have more customers,"

In rural areas, sterilizing medical instruments can be difficult because an autoclave requires a reliable source of electricity.  
"They're so energy intensive that it's nor practical to run them on a generator,· says Anna Young, research and  
development officer for International Laboratories of Innovations in International Health at MIT.
Two years ago, Young joined forces with electrical engineer Ted Liao at MIT to design Solar clave, a solar-powered  
autoclave. It's essentially a modified 4-liter pressure cooker insulated with fiberglass and covered by a bucket. Dozens of  
small mirrors angle toward the base of the vessel, which is painted black to help it absorb heat. After' 30 to 60 minutes, the  
Solar clave reaches 121 degrees Celsius, the sterilization temperature recommended by the US. Centers for Disease  
Control and Prevention. From there, the Solar clave can sterilize instruments in 20 minutes.

If a mirror breaks, health-clinic workers can make a replacement by covering a piece of glass with Mylar from the inside of  
chip bags. It won't be as efficient as a mirror, but it will work, Young says. The ability to carry out their own repairs, however  
MacGyver like, makes workers more comfortable with Solar clave, she says, which is essential in places where  
mechanical problems often doom high-tech devices: "One screw falls off, and everyone is afraid to touch it. It becomes part  
of an equipment graveyard."


The sun can also help purify the most basic necessity: water. All you need for solar water disinfection, known as SODIS, is  
a transparent bottle made of PET plastic (the material used for most disposable beverage containers). Fill the bottle with  
water, leave it in direct sunlight for at least six hours, and the one-two punch of UVA rays and heat will destroy harmful  
bacteria. Studies show that when used to purify drinking water, this process can significantly reduce the occurrence of  
diarrhea. That will have a profound effect: Diarrhea results in more than two million deaths each year.
S. A. Swanson writes about science, health, and technology. Her work has appeared ill publications including Chicago magazine and

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BRCK, a portable Wi-Fi router and a backup power generator for the internet, is expected to alleviate problems that African  
Internet users face daily such as high communication costs and unreliable electricity.

Ushahidi, a not-for-profit technology company based in Kenya, has invented a cloud-managed, portable Wi-Fi router that  
consists of a mobile modem, which can also be used as a backup power generator for the Internet during electricity  
blackouts or in situations of limited network coverage.

Out of adversity can come innovation.

Called BRCK (pronounced as "brick"), experts are already recognising it as an ingenious solution to Africa's intractable  
power problems. The BRCK is rugged and water-proof and compatible with any device that requires between 3 and 17  
volts power supply.  It weighs 510 grammes and it is ideal for use in particularly rural areas. It can be charged on readily  
available power sources such as a car battery or a solar panel. When the electricity goes off, BRCK automatically switches  
to battery mode, which can then last for eight hours.

In addition, currently available modems in Africa don't meet local needs.  They are designed primarily for use in more  
developed regions, particularly the West and Asia, where there is mostly uninterrupted access to electricity and Internet.

The gadget can switch between Ethernet, Wi-Fi and mobile broadband connections, and deliver connectivity for up to 20 devices at the same time through multiple sim  
cards, thereby allowing users to stay connected at a relatively low cost.

Ushahidi is optimistic about the device's potential to help small business owners in Kenya and other parts of Africa.

"Out of adversity can come innovation," said Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi's executive director, at a presentation at the TED  
Global Conference in Scotland last year.  Rotich emphasized the importance of connectivity and entrepreneurship for  
Africa's digital economy, and highlighted the BRCK's role in keeping Africans connected.  Last July, BRCK's creators were  
invited by eLimu, a Kenyan tech company, to consider delivering an e-learning to schools in remote locations. The BRCK  
has also been stress-tested successfully in rural Kenya and during the Rhino Charge, an annual off-road motorsport  

Launched last July in Nairobi, each BRCK sells for $199. Africa's ongoing information and communication technology (ICT)  
transformation makes BRCK a potentially popular device.

Ushahidi (meaning "testimony" or "witness" in Swahili) was originally founded in 2008 as a website to map reports of  
violence in Kenya in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 presidential election.

Since then, the company has evolved into a leader of the technology community in East Africa.

From the above article information taken from Ushahidi's own website below.

Note: From the Editors - Even in the rural USA getting internet and getting efficient and reasonably priced internet is not always easy. We  
believe internet opens doors for many business opportunities for farmers, entrepreneurs and small businesses. A two-way open internet  
also enables either self-education, or traditional education with access to language translation programs offered freely and the proliferation  
of free on-line classes in many, many subjects. This is critical  given the difficulties of establishing publishing companies in the  
numerous languages even within one country, particularly in Africa and Asia; the distribution of text books where needed and the cost of  
buying textbooks for a very, very large number of families

A Non-Profit, Open Source Tech Company


We’re a team of software developers, engineers and technologists who are from Africa and live here. We have a long history of building  
things, such as Ushahidi, Crowdmap and the iHub. Our expertise runs from cloud software to fingerprint scanners for mobile devices to  
high-level medical device prototyping and manufacturing.
The BRCK was designed and prototyped in Nairobi, Kenya. We wanted a connectivity device that fit our needs, where electricity and  
internet connections are problematic both in urban and rural areas.
As we laid out what such a device would look like - physically robust, able to connect to multiple networks, a hub for all local devices,  
enough backup power to survive a blackout - we realized that the way the entire world is connecting to the web is changing. We no longer  
only get online via desktops in our office with an ethernet connection, we have multiple devices, and mobile connectivity is crucial.
AFRICA - Kenya
Technology: An Internet connection that blocks power cuts

By Ying M. Zhao-Hiemann
Courtesy photo©
The Team - Ushahidi
Bacteria-powered solar cell converts light to energy, even under overcast skies

Date: July 5, 2018

Source: University of British Columbia


Researchers have found a cheap, sustainable way to build a solar cell using bacteria that convert light to energy. Their cell  
generated a current stronger than any previously recorded from such a device, and worked as efficiently in dim light as in  
bright light. This innovation could be a step toward wider adoption of solar power in places like British Columbia and parts of  
northern Europe where overcast skies are common.

Using bacteria that convert light to energy could be a step toward wider adoption of solar power in places where overcast skies are common. Credit: ©  
FotoAndalucia / Fotolia

University of British Columbia researchers have found a cheap, sustainable way to build a solar cell using bacteria that  
convert light to energy.

Their cell generated a current stronger than any previously recorded from such a device, and worked as efficiently in dim  
light as in bright light.

This innovation could be a step toward wider adoption of solar power in places like British Columbia and parts of northern  
Europe where overcast skies are common. With further development, these solar cells -- called "biogenic" because they  
are made of living organisms -- could become as efficient as the synthetic cells used in conventional solar panels.

"Our solution to a uniquely B.C. problem is a significant step toward making solar energy more economical," said  
Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor in UBC's department of chemical and biological engineering who led the project.

Solar cells are the building blocks of solar panels. They do the work of converting light into electrical current. Previous  
efforts to build biogenic solar cells have focused on extracting the natural dye that bacteria use for photosynthesis. It's a  
costly and complex process that involves toxic solvents and can cause the dye to degrade.

The UBC researchers' solution was to leave the dye in the bacteria. They genetically engineered E. coli to produce large  
amounts of lycopene -- a dye that gives tomatoes their red-orange colour and is particularly effective at harvesting light for  
conversion to energy. The researchers coated the bacteria with a mineral that could act as a semiconductor, and applied  
the mixture to a glass surface.

With the coated glass acting as an anode at one end of their cell, they generated a current density of 0.686 milliamps per  
square centimetre -- an improvement on the 0.362 achieved by others in the field.

"We recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell," said Yadav. "These hybrid materials that we are  
developing can be manufactured economically and sustainably, and, with sufficient optimization, could perform at  
comparable efficiencies as conventional solar cells."

The cost savings are difficult to estimate, but Yadav believes the process reduces the cost of dye production to about one-
tenth of what it would be otherwise. The holy grail, Yadav said, would be finding a process that doesn't kill the bacteria, so  
they can produce dye indefinitely.

He added that there are other potential applications for these biogenic materials in mining, deep-sea exploration and other  
low-light environments.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Sarvesh Kumar Srivastava, Przemyslaw Piwek, Sonal R. Ayakar, Arman Bonakdarpour, David P. Wilkinson, Vikramaditya G. Yadav. A  
Biogenic Photovoltaic Material. Small, 2018; 14 (26): 1800729 DOI: 10.1002/smll.201800729
Cite This Page:
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University of British Columbia. "Bacteria-powered solar cell converts light to energy, even under overcast skies." ScienceDaily.  
ScienceDaily, 5 July 2018.

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