Alexis Belonio: A Pinoy's mission to power the country �with rice husks
"One man's trash is another man's treasure" is an adage that Professor Alexis Belonio had long ago taken close to heart.
In 2003, he was able to invent a cooking stove that didn't need electricity nor gas to work, only rice husks - the outermost layer of rice grains most usually discarded in the milling process.
Pinoy's 'impossible' feat
That was, at least, until Belonio's revolutionary invention came into the picture. Using only his own resources, the middle-aged Agricultural Engineer designed a simple top-lit stove that efficiently burns rice husks to produce a blue flame ideal for cooking.
In an online article on the Rolex Awards - which also recognized Belonio for his invention in 2008 - University of Illinois professor Prof. Paul S. Anderson said that the Filipino's engineering feat had heretofore been thought impossible.
"He did not even know he should have been highly surprised that he succeeded!" the professor exclaimed.
Kudos from home
It is for this remarkable feat that Yahoo! Philippines, through its initiative called "Pitong Pinoy" which sought to recognize Filipino modern-day heroes, decided to commend Belonio for his efforts to produce a low-cost solution to a widespread problem.
During the awarding ceremony on Friday, Belonio, who got the idea after attending a workshop on wood gasification in Thailand, explained that with the help of the oxygen from the fan, the burning rice husk is converted into a combustible mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane gases, which produced the blue flame.
The immediate benefit is cost savings, Belonio said. Four sacks of rice husks is equivalent to one whole tank of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is often used in kitchens in the Philippines and could last a little over a month of daily use.
But aside from saving money from fuel costs, Belonio pointed out that this method is environment-friendly, and is very safe for home use.
Sharing the technology
What's more remarkable about Belonio, however, is that instead of literally turning trash into treasure and earning a fortune by patenting his device, he chose to distribute the technology freely so that more people could benefit.
"Kung gagamiting nang malawakan, mas maganda," Belonio humbly told GMA News Online. "Nang makita ng isang Amerikano iyong ginawa ko, he asked me to make a manual, and I did."
What started as a device invented at the College of Agriculture in Central Philippine University in Iloilo City is now a device used and sold not only in various parts of the country, but also overseas, such as in Indonesia and East Timor.
Power from trash
With his initial success, Belonio is now setting his eyes on possibilities of scaling up his invention to affect a broader range of people.
His sights are firmly on the southern city of Cebu in the Visayas, where as much as 500 tons of garbage are churned out by residents and businesses in the city each day.
Belonio was commissioned by Suki Trading Corp. in Cebu, a company which produces machineries used in materials recovery facilities and post-harvest facilities.
The company markets a bio-reactor which rapidly transforms and degrades organic waste, but could only accommodate 1 ton of garbage per batch, not enough to meet the high demand for waste treatment in the city.
Belonio said his plan is to use a scaled-up version of his rice husk stove to make a gassifier-reactor, which would directly harness the energy produced by the bio-reactor and convert it into combustible carbon dioxide and hydrogen substances. "Otherwise, it just goes to waste," he pointed out.
The project is on its way to final production as the engine that will be powering the generator - which will then produce electricity - will be installed next week.
He said he is speaking with the company to agree about opening up the technology to more corporations who could sponsor its mass production, "para mas marami ang makinabang. Kung sila lang iyon, hindi nila kayang mag-produce nang marami."
Not for profit
As with his stove invention, Belonio said he has no plans of making money out of this power-generation initiative. He said his main motivation has been the same from the start - to drive the country out of the energy crisis it has been beset with for a very long time.
What Belonio doesn't immediately realize, however, is that with his personal mission to power the country, he not only lights up the bulbs or heats the meals of poor people who have little to no access to expensive electricity, he empowers them as well.