Africa: small-scale generator powered by sugar and yeast (video)

Afrigadget recently blogged about an inexpensive power source for Africa created by Dr. Cedrick Ngalande in Malawi. Today, the blog points to videos of the invention in action:
The rotor moves slowly most of the times but does pick up at certain intervals. This process continues for many hours. Since the rotor is quite heavy (and hence more inertia) a small geared DC motor can be connected to the rotor to generate power for cell phones, $100 laptops, and other things in Africa. People can leave this thing to charge their phones/$100 laptops overnight.

Basically we have two chambers on either end of the rotating (pivoted) rod. The arrangement of the chambers is such that on either side of the rod, one chamber sits on top of the other (this is important). At the beginning of this operation, I fill the bottom chamber on each side with a yeast sugar solution. Each bottom chamber is always locked under pressure by special valves. Due to pressure the solution starts moving from a bottom chamber into its respective top chamber. Note that by moving upwards, the fluid’s center of gravity shifts, resulting in a mass imbalance which causes the wobbling.

Link to post with video.


  1. meh… I am personally powered by the byproduct of sugar and yeast (alcohol) and nobody makes a big deal of it. What gives?

  2. The fuel is an interesting twist, but the basic design is reminiscent of a Stirling engine. Such an engine, especially in a near-equatorial country like Malawi, would actually be an excellent basis for an electrical generator.

    The Stirling engine is basically a piston driven by the expansion of a fluid under great heat. Simple design, but the drawback is that it generally took too much energy to heat it, relegating it to the realm of “interesting but impractical science toys.”

    However, within the past few years, a solar-powered Stirling engine was designed and built. The fluid chambers are suspended in the focal point of a parabolic mirror, which is directed at the sun. The reflected sunlight super-heats the fluid chamber constantly, driving the piston repeatedly. Attach a servomotor to angle it toward the sun throughout the day, and hook the thing up to a storage battery, and you can run an air-conditioner off of it and have electricity to spare.

    One danger: the focal point gets so hot you can ignite a 2×4 like a giant match with it. Finding a safe place for this could be problematic.

  3. Go the extra mile, I’d say – fuel it on barley malt an hops. Then you’ll have an easy time disposing of the spent fuel.

  4. Ok, I need to rant a bit on this one. Firstly, Africa is not one place with one problem, its a continent of many countries with many different situations.

    Also, the level of poorness that means you don’t have any access to electricity also means you do not have the means to build or buy this gadget. And lastly, it’s sort of funny that anyone thinks that people this poor would use their sugar and yeast to power ‘cell phones, $100 laptops, and other things in Africa’.

    $100 laptops?? You’ve got to be joking.

  5. I agree with #5/Paranormal/01-23-2008-21:52’s intentions, but since the site appears designed around gadgets invented in Africa, I want to think that the opening volley showing Paranormal understands Africa is a large continent and some of the countries even play footie is really unnecessary and out of place. The link is to a site about Africans making gadgets for Africans and is put together by a group of Africans. Then I notice they are all East Africans.

    The next paragraph I agree with to a certain extent. Food is more valuable in most situations. But I disagree nobody in Africa will have use for this ‘sort’ of concept. Perhaps if you have a baby that is starving, using some of the sugar to power your pre-paid cell phone to call a doctor because otherwise you have to walk into town is probably a good thing, indeed. However, I think a simple hand crank servo would suffice.

    I think this sort of project represents the same folly that goes on anywhere in the world when it comes to gadgets, science, and funding. It just happens to glom onto an African thingee because it comes from an African in the first place. I haven’t yet understood why humans want to use food to fuel gadgets. Only in specific instances would it make sense.

    Now for my mini-rant… “Firstly?” wtf.

  6. Oh yeah, and I noticed now that I left it at “starving”, which opens up to trollage. I meant to change that to “sick”, or “so starving eating some sugar really wouldn’t do anything at this point”, but it’s a bit complicated. Take the baby out of the picture and just say someone broke their arm or some other non-food-needing thing in a place where the government hasn’t provided electricity. Good god, I don’t know. Just don’t make it eat food and we’ll all be OK?

    Anyway, anything involved with World Bank funding smacks of sinister to me. Just does. Can’t get over that. And I think world government is inevitable. But right now, just seems like Halliburton-Cola-Air-Force Corp to me.

  7. I’m disappointed in the store. For every dollar a Malawian could make banging together these sugar-powered contraptions, he could make a hundred selling them to eco-hipsters in America.

    (And yes, if you want to buy one, they’ll make sure it’s shipped to America by a solar-powered blimp made from recycled shopping bags.)

    Seriously, though- great tips here for living in a post-collapse world.

  8. Pasteurization and sterilization are going to be important – as is a fresh supply of yeast. Ask anyone who has experimented with brewing at home – if a bacteria gets the advantage over the yeast you won’t have any fermentation, only a gross mess.

    Also, can someone explain to me how this device deals with the CO2 that’s released? Fermentation releases a lot of gas, albeit very slowly.

    This seems like a very bad idea and seems to me that it might be a hoax. Has he posted a schematic anywhere?

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