Did This High School Student Just Solve Africa’s Energy Problem?

A Zimbabwean high school student received a prize from theSociety for Science & the Public Community thanks to his entry in his local science fair. Unsatisfied with using a potato to power a lightbulb, Macdonald Chirara decided to tackle a major environmental problem and a national infrastructure issue at the same time.

Many rural parts of Zimbabwehave an unreliable electrical infrastructure, and some regions aren’t connected to thenational electricity grid at all. Residents deal with outages or the lack of infrastructure by using firewood as an energy source. However, Zimbabwe also has aserious deforestation problem. The trees being cut down are not being replaced — andthe issueis only worsening.

Chira came up with a sustainable solution involving organic waste, both plant- and animal-based. Biofuel has been discussed a possible fuel alternative for years. Unlike fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — which were produced over hundreds of millions of years and have a finite supply, the organic materials used in biofuel can be quickly replaced, like fast-growing grasses or other scrubby plants.

Humanity’s oldest fuel, firewood, is technically a biofuel — but the problem is that a large, healthy tree cut down in its prime for burning can take decades to replace. In a place already dealing with deforestation problems, this is not sustainable.

So Chira put together a biogas digester generator. It’s capable of using biogas produced from animal waste, as well as plants — including a particularly tough and fast-growing local weed — as a source of power.

Burning fossil fuels increases the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Burning firewood is carbon neutral, only so long as the trees are replaced –and in the case of Zimbabwe’s shrinking tree population, this is the not the case.

But using organic material that quickly replenishes itself, as this student’s invention does, is carbon neutral. Implementing this solution not only in Zimbabwe, but also in other African countries with similar energy problems could seriously curb deforestation and the attendant increase in the world’s carbon sink deficit.

Only 20 students in the world received the Society’s Innovation Award this year, but it’s not surprising that Chirara was among them. The recentWhite House climate reportputs GOP politicians aiming to deregulate and “drill, baby, drill” in an awkward position.

Perhaps the work of one high school student from across the world — a student whose scientific knowledge exceeds that of most U.S.members of Congress — might be worth a look in this neck of the woods, as well.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

69 comments

Olivia M
Olivia M4 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Ingrid A
Ingrid A6 days ago

Thank you

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Chad A
Chad Anderson29 days ago

Thank you.

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Hannah K
Past Member about a month ago

Thanks for posting

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Mia B
Mia Babout a month ago

Thanks for sharing

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salah z
salah z.about a month ago

Love it

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salah z
salah z.about a month ago

Tyfs

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salah z
salah z.about a month ago

Great invention

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salah z
salah z.about a month ago

Bravo

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salah z
salah z.about a month ago

Brilliant

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