Africa’s remarkable ability to solve real-world problems

One litre of urine can generate six hours of electricity, using an electrolytic cell to separate out the hydrogen, which is then purified and used to power the generator.

Writen by Yazeed Kamaldien

Illustration: Breeze Yyoko

This was the standout innovation at the 2012 Maker Faire, an annual forum for people making solutions to the myriad problems that still exist in modern-day Africa. Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin (all 14) and Bello Eniola (15) created a generator as complex as any university-level science or engineering project.

One litre of urine can generate six hours of electricity, using an electrolytic cell to separate out the hydrogen, which is then purified and used to power the generator. “There are one-way valves for security, but let’s be honest that this is something of an explosive device,” admits Erik Hersman, one of the founders of Maker Faire Africa.

Nairobi-based Hersman is the co-founder of several African tech success stories, including Ushahidi (the mash-up of Google Maps and SMS messages used to pinpoint violence during Kenya’s disputed 2008 elections) and the iHub, one of Africa’s foremost collective working space for young techies and would-be entrepreneurs.

“In 2008 put forward the idea of holding Maker Faire Africa. A couple of us joined him and became organisers for the first Maker Faire Africa in Ghana in 2009.”

“Emeka has been a long-time writer on African grassroots entrepreneurism, and we’ve known each other for a number of years,” Hersman says. “Between the two of us we’ve probably done the most writing on what’s going on with roadside ingenuity on the continent.”

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