Rene Nunez Suarez of San Salvador has spent years in a passionate, single-minded quest to provide the world's poor with a high-efficiency stove, in an effort to fight global warming and reduce deforestation. Now, the acclaimed inventor is left with praise, but no money and an estranged family, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The device clearly has noble aims. It's a stainless-steel cooker that uses about 95% less fuel than conventional wood stoves, with minimal pollution. In El Salvador, millions still cook their daily meals with wood, and the countryside has long been denuded of so many of its invaluable trees.
Worldwide, about half the planet cooks and heats with inefficient, polluting traditional fuels, according to the World Resources Institute. That means millions suffer from asthma, cancer and other problems associated with inhaling so much particle pollution. In fact, cooking fire pollution has been blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people a year worldwide, mostly women and children. Plus, hours are often spent each day gathering and preparing firewood, dung and other fuels. That's time not spent in school or on other more economically productive activities.
Nunez has secured a U.S. patent and a prestigious award from the Paris-based International Energy Agency for his Turbococina, or Turbostove. Yet he has gone from driving a Range Rover to a 1990 Kia, having sunk $2.5 million of his and his family's money into his project, which has so far not taken off. He no longer commands a proud company of employees. His marriage has ended in bitter divorce, and two of his three children are now estranged.
What Nunez has long sought is funding to get the stoves distributed to those who need them in the countryside. But so far he hasn't secured interest from investors he says he can trust or nonprofit organizations.
Nunez's sad story isn't unfamiliar in a world fraught with inequality. Many observers have long complained that the technology may exist to provide better drugs for malaria, dysentery and possibly even AIDS, but that lack of the ability of those who need them most to pay means little incentive for capitalistic systems. Sometimes there seems like an orgy of R&D and marketing spending on the latest gadgets, hair-loss remedies or shiny, sexy toys, while a brilliant inventor with a relatively simple device to help save the world can't get any notice.
Maybe Bill Gates or another developing world do-gooder or green group will one day take up the banner, given recent interest in smart, low-tech design for global problems. A recent Popular Mechanics forum shines some hope in this emerging field of so-called appropriate technology.
Editor's Note: The above image illustrates the way much of the developing world still cooks. Nunez has long labored to provide a more efficient option.
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