26 Nov 2015

Creator of 5-hour Energy Wants to Power the World’s Homes—With Bikes

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The man who created the 5-hour Energy drink says he has more money than he needs—about $4 billion more. So he’s giving it away, spending his fortune on a quest to fix the world’s biggest problems, including energy.

Manoj Bhargava has built a stationary bike to power the millions of homes worldwide that have little or zero electricity. Early next year in India, he plans to distribute 10,000 of his Free Electric battery-equipped bikes, which he says will keep lights and basic appliances going for an entire day with one hour of pedaling.

Bhargava, who dropped out of Princeton University after a year because he was bored and then lived in ashrams in his native India for 12 years, doesn’t stop at bikes. He’s working on ways to make saltwater drinkable, enhance circulation in the body, and secure limitless amounts of clean geothermal energy—via a graphene cord.

“If you have wealth, it’s a duty to help those who don’t,” says Michigan resident Bhargava, 62, in a documentary released Monday, Billions in Change, about his Stage 2 Innovations lab. “Make a difference in people’s lives,” he says, “Don’t just talk about it.”

Could his bike really work? Will people want to pedal for power? Could they afford it or even have room for it in their homes? It holds “huge potential and opportunity for rural households,” says Ajaita Shah, CEO of Frontier Markets, a company selling solar lamps and lighting kits in India. (Read about her work.) She says she’d like to test the bike with her rural customers.

“It’s so simple that we think we can make it for $100 … A bicycle repairman anywhere can fix it,” Bhargava says in an interview. Pedaling turns a turbine generator that creates electricity, stored in a battery. The first 50 bikes will be tested in 15 or 20 small villages in the northern state of Uttarakhand before a major rollout in the first quarter of next year. He says they’ll be made in India but doesn’t give details.

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