For the 1.3 billion people who live without access to electricity, the Industrial Revolution never happened. Billionaire Manoj Bhargava wants to bring that change.
Bhargava, the creator of the 2-ounce caffeine shot 5-hour Energy, has committed to spending his wealth to improve humanity. But instead of conventional charity, he’s focused on inventions that address the root causes of pressing global problems.
“I focus on the fundamentals,” says Bhargava. “Nearly every issue in the world boils down to three issues: energy, water, and health,” he explains.
To that end, Bhargava founded Stage 2 Innovations, an innovation shop that makes, develops, and refines practical products intended to help peoples’ lives around the world.
One such product, called Free Electric, is a reclining hybrid stationary bicycle that generates electricity. Pedaling spins a flywheel, which powers a turbine generator, which charges a battery.
An hour of pedaling will produce a day’s worth of power for a rural household—enough to provide lighting, run a small fan, and charge a mobile device. This electricity comes with no utility bill, generates zero pollution, and produces no waste.
Bhargava plans to deploy 10,000 bikes to India in 2016, with pilot tests commencing in Uttarakhand before a nationwide rollout.
While initial manufacturing of Free Electric, which is set to begin within the next few months, will take place in the United States and India, Bhargava intends for Free Electric eventually to be produced worldwide—but only if he can ensure that no one cuts any corners.
Free Electric is one of the numerous potentially world-changing products being developed at Stage 2 Innovations. Another is the Rain Maker, a water-purification technology that uses an evaporative process—similar to how the sun makes rainclouds—to turn salty or polluted water into clean water for drinking and agriculture.
Rain Maker units are designed to work at any scale. A single unit, suitable for a village, can clean 1,000 gallons of water per hour. Larger volumes could be handled by employing multiple units in series.
‘Billions in Change’ is a new documentary that follows Bhargava and his team of inventors as they create these and other practical solutions to global problems. The film’s accompanying movement, Billions in Change, promotes adoption and implementation of the solutions around the world.
Whether you caught a glimpse of it while flicking through the morning papers, walking past the newsstand, or while looking over at a fellow commuter on the train with his/her head buried in the newspaper, it’s unlikely you missed this advertisement today.
Emblazoned with the words ‘Free electricity is coming’, the ad refers to a film on philanthropist Manoj Bhargava’s project Billions in Change — more specifically, a film about the project that is to be aired across television news channels this week.
But who is Mr Bhargava? And why does the copy on the promotion call him an ‘unconventional billionaire’?
Let’s get the easy part out the way first. It calls him a billionaire because he is one.
How did he become one?
It’s a long story.
The Lucknow-born Bhargava moved to Philadelphia with his parents during the 1960s and went on to complete his schooling and a year of undergraduate education at Princeton, before dropping out to return to India.
After spending 12 years at Hanslok ashram in Delhi, he returned to the US to help his parents with their plastics company. After acquiring some regional plants and turning them around, Bhargava turned his focus from plastics to chemicals and soon found himself entering a new space altogether.
He founded the consumer products firm Living Essentials LLC, which would go on to unleash ‘5-hour Energy‘ upon the US. This beverage with the $1.25 billion annual sales, Bhargava would contend was no mere energy drink.
“5-Hour Energy is not an energy drink, it’s a focus drink,” he told Forbes, “But we can’t say that. The FDA doesn’t like the word ‘focus.’ I have no idea why.”
Now, with an estimated net worth of $4 billion, Bhargava wants to put most of his wealth into solutions to help the world. This is where the ‘unconventional’ part comes in.
Apart from putting a chunk of his fortune into Stage 2 Innovations, an ‘investment fund established to accelerate the large-scale commercialisation of innovative, patentable technologies in the global market’, one of the Bhargava’s latest projects is to manufacture 10,000 units of ‘Free Electric’, electricity-producing stationary bicycles in India from March next year, according to a report by Business Standard. These will then be distributed across villages in India. Bhargava’s areas of focus are simple: Water, energy and health.
In line with these areas is Limitless Energy — graphene cables that can conduct heat from the Earth’s core ‘to the surface of the Earth to run turbines and generate electricity’.