Development Economics

Electric Dirt

It is called "Dirt Power."  Or, more specifically, as the scientists call it, a microbial fuel cell.  A team of undergraduate researchers at Harvard, a small liberal-arts university in New England, invented a battery that runs on dirt.  Actually, it runs on microbes that like to hang out and dine on the decaying organic matter that exists in the dirt.  The team that invented this technology - an organization called Lebone - won the MIT IDEAS competition and, recently, their creation was called one of the 10 most brilliant inventions of 2009 by Popular Mechanics.  First, the problem:

There is currently a dramatic shortage of electrical power in Africa. One billion Africans, constituting a sixth of the world’s population, generate only 4% of global electricity. In most African countries, 95% of the population is living off-grid with no access to electricity (World Bank Millennium Goals Report, 2006). This has a devastating effect on socio-economic development, education, health, and safety. Imagine a village at night in which students are walking to distant highways to study under streetlights, where small merchants are investing half of their resources to pay for kerosene lighting to run their operations, and where emergency health workers, if operating at all, are trying to stitch up wounds and perform surgeries by candlelight. Lack of energy is one of the Africa’s biggest obstacles to development, and a major deterrent for foreign investors. (more…)

Development Economics

Solar Energy in the Developing World

This is a journal about the practice and theory of microfinance, and, more broadly, international economic development and poverty alleviation globally.  If you'd like to get new posts sent to your inbox, please sign up, or subscribe to to my RSS feed.  Thanks. In an earlier post, I talked about green products and the concept of the triple bottom line.  Environmental cookstoves save money, save lives, and produce less carbon emissions.  Believe it or not, black carbon, or soot from cookstoves in developing countries, is the number-two contributor to global warming.  These more efficient stoves pay dividends.  But this is not the only green product serving the developing world.  Solar products – lanterns, cell-phone charging stations, DVD players, and even micro-utilities – offer a cheap, alternative means of energy delivery in the third world. [caption id="attachment_724" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Much of the Philippines - the areas in red - is less than 75% electrified."][/caption]

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