Technology Trend: New Tech Harvests Electricity From Train Track Vibrations, Implications for Africa

By Tunji Ariyomo

Credit: Inhabitat

NDi, 2012 – Science on the leap! Engineers at the Stony Brook University in the United States have won a national award for an innovative technology that will harvest energy from railroad train vibrations.

There is no doubt that success at this will change the economy of rail transportation. As a game changer, it could help provide critical answers to some of the key challenges to rail transportation in third world countries. Electric power has been one of such core issues that have prevented many developing economies from catching up with the rest of the world in terms of efficient modern rail transportation. This has restricted investment, especially in Africa, to diesel powered locomotive engines with the attendant  challenges to the environment.

This innovation by a team led by Professor Lei Zuo should therefore encourage leaders in Africa to sponsor research along a similar corridor, particularly how to optimise such energy generation that would make it substantial enough to power light rail transportation.

Tunji is the Energy Policy Chair of the NDi


The press statement by the host university, Stony Brook University is reproduced below.

Press Release (Visit HERE)

STONY BROOK, NY, November 15, 2012 – Stony Brook University engineers have won a national award for an innovative energy harvester that has the potential to save millions of dollars in energy costs for railroads while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The team’s work, “Mechanical Motion Rectifier (MMR) based Railroad Energy Harvester,” was awarded “Best Application of Energy Harvesting” at the Energy Harvesting and Storage USA 2012 conference, held in Washington, DC on November 7-8, 2012.

The Stony Brook team, led by Professor Lei Zuo and two graduate students Teng Lin and John Wang from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, developed a new type of energy harvester that converts the irregular, oscillatory motion of train-induced rail track vibrations into regular, unidirectional motion, in the same way that an electric voltage rectifier converts AC voltage into DC.

Professor Zuo estimates that the invention could save more than $10 million in trackside power supply costs for railroads in New York State alone, along with a reduction of 3000 tons per year of CO2 and a half million dollars of electricity savings.

Stony Brook University Professor, Lei Zuo, PhD
Stony Brook University Professor, Lei Zuo, PhD

“The U.S. has the longest rail tracks in the world, approximately 140,700 miles; that are often in remote areas. It is very important but also very costly to power the track-side electrical infrastructure, such as the signal lights, cross gates, track switches and monitoring sensors,” Professor Zuo said. “Our invention, the ‘Mechanical Motion Rectifier (MMR) based Railroad Energy Harvester,’ can harness 200 watts of electric energy from train-induced track deflections to power the track-side electrical devices. By using two one-way clutches, the innovative mechanical motion rectifier converts the irregular up-and-down vibration motion into unidirectional rotation of the generator, thus breaking the fundamental challenge of vibration energy harvesting and offering significant advantages of high efficiency and high reliability.”

The technology of the MMR based Railroad Energy Harvester has been licensed to Electric Truck, LLC/Harvest NRG, Inc., who initially supported this project. It is also supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Research Center (UTRC-II), New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), SUNY Research Foundation and private industry.

In addition to the economic, environmental and energy benefits of the device, Professor Zuo said the most important technical innovations in this harvester are the unique mechanical motion rectifier that changes the irregular up-and-down vibration into regular unidirectional rotation of the electrical generator, and synergistically integrating the fly wheel into the energy harvesting system to further increase energy conversion efficiency and stable power output. Another important feature is the creative implementation of MMR in one shaft design, which proves to increase the energy converting efficiency to over 70 percent.

“With the MMR design, the technology advances the traditional energy harvesting, including directly generating high-quality DC power without an electrical rectifier in the vibration environment; enabling an electrical generator to rotate in one direction with relative steady speed in a more efficient speed region; and changing the negative influence of motion inertia into positive, thus reducing the mechanical stress and increasing system reliability,” he said. “Such a design not only avoids the challenges of friction and impact induced by oscillation motion, but also enables us to make full use of the pulse-like features of track vibration to harvest more energy.”

Professor Zuo and his team have been working on vibration and thermoelectric energy harvesting in the past several years to harness power from different sources, including trains, cars, tall buildings and ocean waves. In 2011, the team won a prestigious R&D 100 Award – dubbed the “Oscar of Invention” – for the development of retrofit energy-harvesting shock absorbers that convert vibration, bumps, and motion experienced by the suspension of a vehicle or train into electric power. The regenerative shock absorber for cars can harvest 100-400 watts from the vehicle vibrations under normal driving conditions. The shock absorbers also won the Energy Harvesting and Storage USA 2010 award for Best Technology Development of Energy Harvesting.

Source and Credit: Stony Brook University (2012, November 15). Technology harvests energy from railroad train vibrations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 2012.

Paper 73: Preliminary thoughts on a parliamentary bill for the payment of mandatory pension to aged people in Nigeria


Old-age in Nigeria can be a dreadful prospect to many. It is not uncommon to see abandoned senior citizens who are homeless and are compelled to beg for survival. The NDi Paper 73 is an exploratory document. The NDi seeks to collate opinions and ideas toward ultimately presenting a bill on the subject to the Nigeria’s National Assembly.

1.0 Introduction
All age related issues in Nigeria are highly controversial, yet sensitive. Without recourse to the common law, even natural justice and cultural perspective clearly provides basic human right pedestals on which the elderly ones generally known to be disadvantaged because of age-related weaknesses can stand on.

This write-up is built to provide suggestions on the use of human-rights based approach to analyse, interpret and tackle advanced age issues and define a legal basis for making provision for people falling within this age.

The United Nations through the Brasilia Declaration (ECLAC, 2008), adopted in 2007 by the Second Regional Intergovernmental Conference on Aging in Latin American and the Caribbean,1 and ratified in ECLAC resolution 644(XXXII) of 2008, called upon participating Governments to work towards the adoption of an international convention regarding the rights of the older persons (Article 24), as well as to the establishment of the mandate of a Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur responsible for the promotion and the protection of the rights of older persons (Article 25).

Although, there was a bold attempt to establish something akin to a norm in the Latin American, the absence of specifically targeted standards and norms (particularly in the form of a treaty) such as those that have been established for other vulnerable groups or groups in other clime or globally has a number of practical implications for the promotion and protection of older persons’ rights.

First, existing international standards do not establish a coherent set of principles to serveas guidelines for national legislation and public policy. The United Nations Principles for Older Persons, approved by the General Assembly in 1991, provide a universal frame of reference for those rights. By their very nature, however, those principles are generic and have not been translated into concrete standards in many of the spheres in which older persons are most at risk of having their rights violated.

Second, general human rights instruments and other international provisions do not cover a series of specific rights which need to be defined in greater detail in the light of the new understandings and agreements that are reflected, inter alia, in national legislation and case law , as well as international, regional and sectoral policies. The various initiatives that have been launched to date in the form of principles, guidelines or other “soft law” instruments are also a reflection of the need for specific definitions of certain human rights as they relate to older persons. A convention on this specific subject would help to consolidate the extremely varied range of relevant provisions and to clarify the situation with respect to possible ambiguities in the recognition of the rights of older persons, thereby furthering the efforts of States, international bodies and civil society stakeholders to promote and protect those rights. Such a convention would also help to strengthen States’ and international and regional organizations’ efforts to enforce and promote those rights on the ground.

Although existing United Nations treaty bodies ⎯especially the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women⎯ are showing a growing interest in specifically addressing the rights of older persons, their involvement in this area is still quite limited, and there are many issues that do not fall within their mandates.

Third, the adoption of a convention of this sort would contribute to the evolving interpretation of general international and regional human rights instruments and to the design and implementation of human-rights-based public policies that are fully aligned with the universally accepted objectives of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.

Basically, this article will attempt to chronicle the following definitions

1. Basic Concept and Idea of Ageing
2. Basic rights of aged people

2.0 Concept and Rights of Old People
2.1 The Basic Concept and Idea of Ageing
Before a legally binding convention on the rights of older persons can be framed, the category of persons entitled to those rights must be defined. It must be noted that there is no single paradigm for old age and ageing, both of which relate to a multi-faceted process that is determined not only by the passage of time, but also by physiological, social and cultural factors. In Nigeria, chronologically, old age is assumed to begin at 60 years Traditionally however old age is characterized as a stage at which economic, physical and social capacities are all declining. In the first case, this is reflected in reduced income; in the second, in a loss of autonomy; and, in the third, in the absence of a social role. This implies that older persons are subjects of law, rather than simply beneficiaries and that they therefore enjoy certain guarantees and has certain responsibilities to themselves, their family and society, to
their immediate surroundings and to future generations.

Old age when measured in years, the criterion defines anyone above 60 years as ‘’senior citizens’’ which places a bit of rights and responsibilities on people within this range.

2.2 Rights of Old People
Three different documents calling for a declaration on the rights of older persons have been introduced either formally or as discussion papers to United Nations bodies and their specialized organs (Sidorenko, 2008).

The Declaration of Old Age Rights, presented by Argentina in 1948, espoused the rights to assistance, accommodation, food, clothing, care of physical and moral health, recreation, work, stability and respect (United Nations, 1948).
In 1991, the International Federation on Ageing and the Dominican Republic submitted the draft Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons, which served as the basis for the United Nations Principles for Older Persons,, which were adopted by the General Assembly in 1991. The proposal emphasized that fundamental human rights do not diminish with age and that, because of the marginalization and impediments that old age may entail, older persons run the risk of losing their rights and being rejected by society unless those rights are reaffirmed and respected (International Federation on Ageing, 1998).

In 1999, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) of the United States submitted the draft Charter for Society for All Ages (Sidorenko, 2008) on the occasion of the International Year of Older Persons. This initiative was expected to follow the same procedural path as the proposal put forward by the International Federation on Ageing in 1991, but it failed to move forward. This charter placed emphasis on the shared issues of concern to different sectors of society and made recommendations regarding the interdependence of individuals and society, the interdependence of the different stages of life (in the spheres of education and training, employment and productive activity, income protection, health and social services) and the interdependence of generations (AARP, 1997).

3.0 The Nigeria Scenario
3.1 Basic rights of old people in Nigeria
It is recommended that the state should consider and immediately enact laws to protect the following rights of old people:

a) Equal rights of men and women
States parties should pay particular attention to older women and should institute non contributoryold-age benefits or other assistance for all persons, regardless of their sex, who find themselves without resources.

b) Rights relating to work
States parties should take steps to prevent discrimination on grounds of age in employment and occupation, guarantee safe working conditions until retirement, employ older workers in circumstances in which the best use can be made of their experience and know-how, and put in place programmes that prepare workers for retirement.

c) Right to social security
States parties must establish general regimes of compulsory old-age insurance, establish retirement age so that it is flexible, provide non-contributory old-age benefits and other assistance for all older persons who, when reaching the age prescribed in national legislation, have not completed a qualifying period of contribution and are not entitled to an old-age pension or other social security benefit or assistance and have no other source of income.

d) Right to protection of the family
Governments and non-governmental organizations should establish social services to support the whole family when there are elderly people at home and implement measures especially for low-income families who wish to keep elderly people at home.

e) Right to an adequate standard of living
Older persons’ basic needs for food, income, care, self-sufficiency and other elements
should be met. Policies should be developed to assist them to remain in their homes by improving and adapting their dwellings.

f) Right to physical and mental health
Investments must be made in health care for persons at all stages in the life cycle in order to help older persons remain healthy.

g) Right to education and culture
The protection of this right should be approached from two different and complementary
points of view:

(a) the right of elderly persons to benefit from educational programmes; and
(b) making the know-how and experience of elderly persons available to younger

h) Violence
States parties have the obligation to acknowledge and prohibit violence against older citizens, including those with disabilities, in their legislation on domestic violence, sexual violence and institutional violence.

They must investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of violence committed against them, including those that are the result of traditional beliefs or practices.

States parties should devote special attention to violence against older citizens during times of armed conflict, the impact of such conflicts on their lives and contributions to peacemaking and reconstruction

i) Participation in public life
States parties have the obligation to ensure that older people have opportunities to participate in public and political affairs and to hold public posts, including elective office, at all levels.

j) Work and pension benefits
States should facilitate the participation of older citizens in gainful employment without discrimination on the basis of sex or age. States have the obligation to ensure that older women are not discriminated against in terms of mandatory retirement ages in either the public or private sector and should provide suitable non contributory pensions on an equal basis for all men and women who are not covered by the social security system.
States must ensure that older women, including those who have childcare responsibilities, have access to the economic and social benefits corresponding to caregivers and to all necessary support when they are caring for aged parents or relatives

k) Health
States should provide the medicines required to treat chronic, non communicable diseases, long term health and social care, including care that allows for independent living, and palliative care.

l) Economic empowerment
States should remove age- and sex-based barriers to access to agricultural credit and should ensure access to technology for older farmers and small-scale landholders. They should make means of transportation available to enable older citizens, including those living in rural areas, to participate in economic and social activities.

m) Social benefits
States parties should ensure that older citizens have access to suitable housing in accordance with their needs and should remove architectural and other barriers hindering their mobility. They must also provide social services that enable older women to remain at home and live independently for as long as possible.

By Olugbenga Musa

Credit & Acknowledgement
I acknowledge the usage of materials from ECLAC –Project Document Collection in preparing this piece.

NOTE: Readers willing to make contribution should contact iHelp[at]

Giant strides by the pee-girls

By Tolulope Ariyomo

No doubt, you have read the news. The four girls. Four inventors aged 14 (one is 15) from Africa (Nigeria) and their invention – a generator that produces electricity for six hours using a single litre of urine as fuel.

Eric Pfeiffer provides the details:

“The generator was unveiled at last week’s Maker Faire in Lagos, Nigeria, by the four teens Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin, all age 14, and Bello Eniola, 15.”

“How the urine-powered generator works:

    • Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
    • The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder.
    • The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
    • This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.”

READ Eric Pfeiffer’s here.

This was the star attraction at the last The Maker Faire, a popular event across Africa.

Three of the four inventors of the urine-powered generator (Photo Credit: Eric Hersman)
Three of the four inventors of the urine-powered generator (Photo Credit: Eric Hersman)

So, what is the story?

Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin and Bello Eniola are young teenage high school girls in Lagos, Nigeria. Their invention is further proof that the African continent must expose the girl child to proper education and grant equal rights to female kids as they would their male counterparts. With the right environment and motivation, girls will work hard side by side with their male counterparts in the onerous task of finding sustainable and lasting solutions to the various challenges being faced by Africa.

Tolulope is the editor of the women-in-science blog of the NDi

Report: Wanted! Hassle-free polls with e-voting, By Temitope Ogunbanke

By Temitope Ogunbanke, National Mirror


Last Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State, going by the account of many, can be said to be free and fair. The election was applauded by the international and local observers because of the manner it was conducted. Even some political analysts believe strongly that the Ondo governorship election was an improvement on the last one in Edo, thus giving kudos to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). During the election, there was a heavy deployment of security agents and INEC staffs to Ondo State.

About 18,000 security personnel and 9,000 INEC staff and ad-hoc staff took part in the election to ensure that it was hitch-free. However, despite the applause INEC has got over the election and the huge resources expended, there were still some problems bordering on logistics on the part of INEC and challenges on the part of security agents in the election. Based on the challenges faced during the election therefore, some people are of the view that adopting an electronic voting (e-voting) in future elections will strengthen election process and reduce the cost of conducting election in Nigeria.

Speaking to journalists in Akure on Sunday on the outcome of the Ondo State governorship election, the national chairman of Labour Party, Dr Dan Nwanyanwu, made a proposal to that effect, saying that it would be in the interest of Nigeria as a nation.

His words: “INEC did very well in the Ondo State governorship election and I think it is an improvement from what happened in Edo State governorship election. But we still need to adopt a system that will make us not to mobilise the whole military force and police into one state for election. So, I am recommending electronic system of voting in Nigeria. India used it for over 600million voters and the system succeeded. “It can work also in Nigeria whereby by the time you press a button to vote automatically the result is transmitted. There would be no need for ballot papers, ballot boxes and cubicles. Thugs would have no job to do. It will allow people to go out and vote without any fear. The electronic voting is also less expensive.

By the time we get there I can assure you that Nigeria will fly.” Nwanyanwu’s view also renewed the call for e-voting in Nigeria, especially ahead of the 2015 general elections. It would be recalled that since the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led INEC called on the National Assembly for the amendment of Section 52 (1) (b) of the Electoral Act 2010, which makes it an offence for INEC to use e-voting, many Nigerians have been expressing different views on the system. While some are commending the initiative of the INEC boss in seeking the introduction of the electronic voting system in future elections, some are of the view that Nigeria is not ripe for e-voting. Electronic voting is a term that describes the use of electronic cards and electronic voting machines in voting for a preferred candidate during an election.

It was invented to correct some anomalies and address some factors militating against credible elections. The introduction of the Direct Data Capturing Machine in Nigeria during the last voter registration exercise assisted a great deal in drastically reducing incident of multiple registrations which was usually the starting point in election rigging. Therefore, those in support of the e-voting believe that adopting the system will uphold the strength of the Nigeria electoral system and improve on its weaknesses. Electronic voting, without any iota of doubt, is a vital key to solving a reasonable portion of the problems associated with our elections.

From issue of transparency to election induced violence orchestrated by thugs and highly prejudiced electoral umpires, electronic voting can help force these typical maladies into the dustbin of history. In the past general elections, Nigerians have experienced high degrees of rigging, ballot box snatching, under-age voters, election and post-election violence. Over the years, elections results in Nigeria have been taken with a pinch of salt.

Therefore, many people believe that adopting the e-voting will make future elections in Nigeria to be more credible and violence free. According to some political analysts, some of the basic advantages of e-voting include; the need to record information and to have the results available quickly; need to have a system that is accessible to all and easy to use (accessibility); need to ensure secrecy of what takes place ; need for voting to be undertaken seriously, after due deliberation .

Others are the ability to ensure that each individual’s vote is recorded and counted accurately; need to guard against manipulation and interference with information once recorded; need to ensure that individuals cannot be impersonated and need to verify what has taken place through the use of traceable information trails.

Many also believe that the use of evoting devices, if legalised ahead of the 2015 elections, will considerably reduce the cost of organising elections in view of the fewer number of manpower that will be required at each poling unit. The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) which has greatly assisted India cope well with its over 700 million voters population contains devices which should make tabulation and computation of elections results faster and eliminate cases of figure alteration between poling units and collation centres. A public affairs analyst, Mr. Chima Nnaji , in a recent television interview programme said that the introduction of electronic voting system would help in combating electoral fraud in Nigeria.

He said that the process of electronic voting is to basically de-personalise the whole process of election and it is also a process that would decongest corruption. The pioneer coordinator of the Ondo State Information Technology Development Centre (SITDEC) and policy chairman of the National Development Initiative (NDi), Mr. Tunji Ariyomo, in a recent statement, posited that electronic is a vital key to solving a reasonable portion of the problems associated with Nigeria’s elections. He said electronic voting could help in forcing election induced violence orchestrated by thugs and highly prejudiced electoral umpires and other electoral frauds into the dustbin of history.

“There is no doubt that electronic voting would bring a major change to the existing electoral system. It will also have the multiple benefits of reducing the need for too many voting stations, introducing permanent voting stations in secure locations and enabling INEC to drive political parties to utilise such voting stations for the conduct of their primaries,” Ariyomo noted.

Those opposed to e-voting believed that the system cannot work in Nigeria now because of the dearth of infrastructure and level of illiteracy in the country. Some people are against the e-voting because they believe that the process may be manipulated by the power brokers, considering the rate of fraudulent activities in the country, especially various scams in public offices.

The epileptic power supply in Nigeria, according to some political analysts, will also be a stumbling block to the e-voting, they said. Although the system could reduce electoral malpractices drastically, many people are of the view that federal government may be unwilling to provide the funding required to put the electronic voting system into use. Speaking to Saturday Mirror, a National Conscience Party (NCP) chieftain, Ogbeni Lanre Banjo, said Nigeria is not mature for electronic voting system because of the level of corruption in the country.

“I am not in support of electronic voting system because it can be programmed to perpetuate fraud. For example, they can programme it in a way that if someone votes for NCP, the vote will go to PDP.

Some countries that adopted the system in the past have stopped using it because of manipulation. I don’t think Nigeria is mature for electronic voting considering the fact that many people are not well conversant with modern day technology devices,” he said.

In a recent media interview, a member of the House of Representatives from Taraba State, Mr. Jerry Manwe, is of the view that funding may be an impediment to e-voting in Nigeria. Manwe, the Chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, expressed doubt that the government would adequately finance the voting system.

His words: “There are basic things that INEC needs to put in place, but is the government ready to fund them? We need a data-base for voters, which is not available yet.

Besides, e-voting requires an amendment to the Electoral Act; there is no proposal before the House yet on this. So, on the whole, e-voting is contingent on how much fund the government can provide for INEC. E-voting is good and can reduce electoral malpractices.” With the ongoing constitutional amendment being embarked upon by the National Assembly, and with the possible focus on the Electoral Act 2010, it is unlikely that e-voting will be considered.

Whether the system will survive the debate that will follow is a different matter entirely.


The Ribadu Petroleum Indutsry Task Force Report

The original report of the Nuhu Ribadu led Presidential Committee is available here for download. A formal copy was submitted to the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on 2nd November 2012. Mr. Ribadu confirmed to the local Nigerian Punch newspaper that the version submitted is not different from the version reported by Reuters. This is the version detailed in the Reuters report.