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Published on June 9th, 2009 | by Derek Markham


15 Year Old Invents Complete Algae Energy System

June 9th, 2009 by  

15 year old Javier Fernández-Han invented a truly innovative solution to meeting the basic needs of many of the world’s poor, and won Ashoka’s Invent Your World Challenge with his algae energy system, called VERSATILE. His holistic approach uses an efficient, modular system to meet multiple needs.

“An invention that is narrowly focused on solving a single problem often inadvertently creates more problems because nature is highly complex and interconnected.” – Javier Fernandez-Han

Javier’s system is made up of 12 technologies in six subsystems, which can treat waste, produce methane and bio-fuel, and is a source of livestock and human food production. If that isn’t enough, it also produces oxygen and sequesters greenhouse gases, and can also be a source of income.

The basis of Javier’s system is salt-water loving algae, and the beauty of VERSATILE is the interconnectedness. The efficiency comes in part from the ability to take waste from one part and use it for nourishment for another, and the modular nature of VERSATILE allows customization to meet individual needs.

The VERSATILE subsystems are:

  • An anaerobic digester, converting sewage and food scraps
  • A bio-gas upgrader, turning the gases from the digester into nourishment for the algae, as well as producing fuel
  • Vented methane burning stoves, a non-polluting and CO2 capturing device
  • Algae bioreactors producing algae biomass and oxygen from sunlight, saltwater, and CO2, and using nutrients from the digester
  • Flush latrines
  • The PlayPump, which uses the energy of children playing to power the system as well as other devices

The benefits of the VERSATILE energy system include better health for villagers due to cleaner burning methane stoves, less deforestation due to wood scavenging for fuel, possible income from the sale of algae biomass for pharmaceutical or nutraceutical products, easier livestock production because of more availability of feed, LED lighting powered by electricity generation from the PlayPump, and a source of fuel for machinery (from algae oil).


Javier says that the system can be scaled up to provide for populations of 200,000 or more people, or scaled down for small populations. He is currently working to develop a family-sized system that could fit in a small house, with a cost estimated at $300.

Ashoka’s Youth Venture program promotes and invests in teams of young people around the world designing and launching their own lasting social ventures. The program enables youth to have the transformative experience of leading positive social change.


[Via Change.org
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About the Author

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!

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