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At the tender age of 9, Javier Fernández-Han found his calling: design for the other 90 percent - help the world's poor meet their basic needs sustainably.

Several years of research and design have led to an innovative solution: The VERSATILE System - a mashup of new and adapted technology that treats waste, produces methane and bio-oil as fuel, produces food for humans and livestock, sequesters greenhouse gases, and produces oxygen.

What drives this complete energy resource system? Algae - the little organism that could.

For his work, Javier, 15, won the top prize in this year's Invent Your World Challenge, sponsored by Ashoka's Youth Venture and the Lemelson Foundation.

We spoke to Javier about the VERSATILE System and the need for holistic thinking in the invention sector.

1. If your invention - VERSATILE System - is the answer, what is the question?

What system can improve the quality of life in a village by providing the basic necessities of food, sanitation, energy-fuel, and income in an environmentally sustainable and technologically appropriate fashion?

2. So how does VERSATILE System answer the question? What does it do?

The innovative VERSATILE System answers the question by tightly knitting together a dozen existing and new technologies to meet food, sanitation, energy, income and environmental needs (in a way that's affordable to the world's 90% of the world).

At the heart of this efficient system - the secret ingredient - is algae... salt-water loving algae powered by the sun.

Elegant interconnectedness makes the VERSATILE system unique. Waste from one part of system is nourishment for another, making the system extremely efficient. The VERSATILE system consists of six subsystems:

* Anaerobic digester (AD) - converts food scraps and sewage into "clean" products

* Bio-gas upgrader - takes harmful gases from digester and treats them, turns them into fuel and nourishment for algae

* Vented methane burning stoves - burns methane without polluting, resulting carbon dioxide is captured

* Algae bioreactors - use sunlight, saltwater, carbon dioxide and nutrients from digester to produce oxygen and algae biomass, which can be used as food for livestock and people

* Flush latrines

* PlayPump - turns human energy (from children playing) into stored energy that can be used to power VERSATILE system and other electronic devices

Click on presentation for details of the system.

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.

This kid is only fifteen. Wow. Talk about decreasing world suck. Awesome. Way to go, Javier!


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