We've seen amazing leaps forward in cleantech and renewable energy technologies, and will see even bigger leaps in the near future, due to this next generation of teenagers coming of age during a time when our energy and environmental problems are really hitting home.
The next big thing in cleantech or renewable energy is most likely just a spark of an idea inside the mind of a teenager right now, awaiting the right mentor, the right class, or the right materials. Forget your preconceived ideas of teens being totally self-absorbed slackers, because those same teens are also bringing ingenuity and innovation into play to make our world a better place.
Here's a look at some of the teenagers who have been working diligently to move the state of cleantech forward, while the rest of us work on getting a new high score in Angry Birds:
1. William Kamkwamba: The boy who harnessed the wind:
"When fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba, of Masitala Village in Wimbe, Malawi, stumbled across the image of a windmill for the first time while poring over a library book, he wasn't thinking like that. He was thinking of his village's lack of electricity (only 2% of Malawi is electrified) and of how electricity could power an irrigation pump, which would help his family and others cope with meager crops. Instead of classes that his parents couldn't afford, and amidst the suspicions of his village, William designed and built a windmill based on the picture he saw and a pile of scrapyard junk. When he first switched it on, the DIY turbine powered lights and radios in his family home -- and electrified his village and the world."
2. Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad: Turning plastic waste into biofuel:
"Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, a 16 year-old student at the Zahran Language School in Alexandria, Egypt, has found an inexpensive catalyst that could turn Egypt's plastic waste into roughly $78 million worth of biofuels each year. Egypt’s plastic consumption is estimated to total 1 million tons per year, so Faiad’s proposal could completely transform the country’s economy, while also handling their plastic waste issues. She calculates that her discovery could inexpensively generate about 40,000 tons of cracked naphtha and 138,000 tons of hydrocarbon gases per year — equivalent to $78 million."
3. Richard Turere: Using tech for managing human-wildlife conflict
"A 13-year-old inventor in Kenya, Richard Turere, has come up with a low-cost, eco-friendly way to protect his family's livestock that could also serve as a solution to a serious problem in his country -- managing human-wildlife conflict. He took LED bulbs from broken flashlights and rigged up an automated lighting system of four or five torch bulbs around the cattle stockade. The bulbs are wired to a box with switches, and to an old car battery charged with a solar panel that operates the family television set. The lights flash in sequence, giving the impression that someone is walking around the stockade."
4. Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, Duro-Aina Adebola, and Bello Eniola: Pee-powered generator
"A generator powered by pee was presented at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos by four teenaged girls (ages 14-15). The device begins with putting urine in an electrolytic cell to separate the hydrogen, then purifying, pressurizing, and drying the hydrogen, and finally using that hydrogen gas in a generator."
5. Param Jaggi: Cleaning up car emissions with algae:
"Param Jaggi, a 17-year-old senior at Plano East High School, has been working on a way to reduce tailpipe emissions, and has designed a device called the "Algae Mobile," which is inserted into the exhaust pipe on the back side of a car. Through photosynthesis, algae inside the gas-permeable, aluminum alloy tube converts carbon dioxide into oxygen and releases it into the air for humans to breathe."
6. Eden Full: Optimizing solar energy collection
"The idea is such a simple one: rotate solar panels to follow the sun throughout the day so they capture the most of the sun's energy as possible. Solar power tracking systems have been around for some time, but a 19-year-old claims to have done existing systems one better. Eden Full is the lady behind the SunSaluter, a technology that can optimize energy collection by up to 40 percent - for a total cost of $10 per installation."
7. Malin Karki: Solar energy using hair instead of silicon:
"18 year-old Malin Karki was reading a book by Stephan Hawking that discussed ways of creating static energy from hair. From this idea, Karki realized that melanin was one of the factors in energy conversion, and that it could possibly serve as a substitute conductor. He and four other classmates worked on a prototype, which they found could charge a cell phone or a pack of batteries for lighting. The panels themselves are 15 inches square and can produce 9V or 18W of power and cost around $38 to produce."
8. Javier Fernández-Han: Modular algae energy system:
"15 year-old 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."
9. Easton LaChappelle: 3D printed, brain-powered prosthetic arm:
"Two summers ago, Easton LaChappelle thought it would be fun to build a robotic arm controlled wirelessly using a glove. LaChappelle, then 14, knew nothing about electronics, programming, or robots—but he was bored and desperate for a challenge. So over the next couple of years, the teen, now a high school junior, toiled in his cramped bedroom workshop in Mancos, Colorado, ironing out the details. In time, he emerged with a robo-arm operated by a gaming glove - and his mind."
Perhaps these amazing teens will help you to see their peers differently. Around the world, motivated teenagers like these are making advances in clean and renewable technology everyday, not just hanging around the mall and sending mad amounts of text messages. And that's excellent, because our future depends on them.