Thanks to 15 year old Texan Javier Fernández-Han, we feel a little more hopeful about the next generation’s ability to adapt to a world of limited resources. The high school student developed a fully featured algae-powered energy system that combines a dozen new and existing technologies to treat waste, produce methane and bio-oil for fuel, produce food for humans and livestock, sequester greenhouse gases, and produce oxygen. Dubbed the VERSATILE system, the project is this year’s winner of the annual Invent Your World Challenge $20,000 scholarship.
Fernández-Han’s Versatile System consists of six subsystems: An anaerobic digester for sewage and food scraps, a bio-gas upgrader to turn gases from the digester into food for the algae, vented methane burning stoves, a CO2-capturing device, algae bioreactors to produce algae biomass and oxygen from sunlight, saltwater, and CO2, flush latrines, and the PlayPump, which uses energy derived from children playing to power the system.
According to Fernández-Han, the modular system is targeted at developing countries that need self-contained sources of power and waste disposal. The budding inventor envisions African villages lit up by the Playpump’s LEDs, with excess methane to sell for income, reduced air pollution — thanks to methane burning stoves, and increased affordability of goats, pigs, and fish due to the availability of algae as feed. A scaled-down version of the system for a small house or apartment could cost as little as $200.
The algae-powered system hasn’t yet been built, however, and skeptics will remain until it is. Even if Fernández-Han’s design doesn’t pan out as planned, we’re thoroughly impressed by his innovative spirit.