Traveler intern Daniel Bortz explores a program that creates bike-powered machines in Guatemala.

Photo: Bike Blender in Guatemala

Across Guatemalan farmland, a new breed of bicycles is being used to thresh corn, de-shell coffee beans, and even blend fruit smoothies.

There, in a country with a history of endemic poverty, Maya Pedal works to combine exercise and technology to provide livelihoods.

Formed in 2001 and supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Maya Pedal’s workshop creates handmade bicimáquinas–low-cost machines made from old bike parts, concrete, wood, and metal. The nut-sheller, the mobile water pump, and the bicycle mill are among the project’s popular designs, providing farmers and small businesses assistance in a variety of tasks. Prototypes of bicycle washing machines and electricity generators are currently in the works. The group also accepts volunteers who are interested in helping build and distribute the machines.

Photo: Mobile Water Pump

All pedal-powered, these bicimáquinas help locals perform daily chores often made difficult by lack of access to electricity. The water pump, for example, uses a line of rope to lift water at 5-10 gallons per minute from wells and boreholes, supplying residents with clean drinking water.

Such sustainable solutions move the planet one step closer to solving the world’s freshwater crisis, which, at its current rate, is predicted to leave a third of the people on Earth without a clean, secure source of water by 2050. (Read more about the threat to the world’s water systems in this special issue of National Geographic magazine). 

Innovative ideas like the bicimáquinas are currently on display in “Design for the Other 90%,” a free exhibit at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. The exhibit explores inexpensive ways of supplying water and other basic needs to those who lack them–an astonishing 5.8 billion of the world’s 6.5 billion population. Among the tools featured is a bamboo treadle pump, a device with two metal cylinders used by poor farmers to access groundwater during the dry season. The exhibit, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, runs through Sept. 6 and includes workshops where visitors can watch the process of dirty water become drinkable and see rice cooked in solar ovens.

[Maya Pedal]

[Guatemala Travel Guide]

[Design for the Other 90%]

Photos: Courtesy of Maya Pedal

Comments

  1. elmono enbici
    June 7, 2010, 6:08 pm

    GREAT!

  2. huntingdon bed and breakfasts
    June 8, 2010, 9:20 am

    sustainable solutions, great to see

  3. Anka
    June 16, 2010, 2:24 pm

    wow!!!! amazing!!

  4. Alexandra
    June 16, 2010, 2:47 pm

    This really sounds amazing. I am interested in volunteering so I tried the hyperlink you have used but it doesn’t work. Could you give us some more information on how to volunteer or which group you mean, so that we can get in touch with them.

  5. chaker baloch
    June 16, 2010, 2:49 pm

    it is really amazed to see such things,we all know that on coming time we must needs pure electricity which are created by the nature or in such a ways that there should be no pollution,it is really interesting and we may do many things,i have some ideas as a student of B,E in electrical thus i want to share my ideas to make a better future for our coming generations,thanks and really great to know.

  6. Shreya
    June 16, 2010, 3:19 pm

    Bike peddling smoothie blenders are also found in the city of Santa Monica as well. Incredible ideas – creating solutions for sustainable development and a cleaner/ greener environment. :)

  7. IT Blog
    June 16, 2010, 4:30 pm

    Alexandra, it looks like we exceeded their bandwith as that’s the correct URL. I’d check back with the site tomorrow and see if it’s calmed down a bit.

  8. Denise
    June 16, 2010, 6:47 pm

    I remember when I was a kid, we had a bicycle that generated enough electricity to power a small headlight on it for when you were riding at night. I’m surprised I never see those kind of bikes for sale these days. I would even be interested in this kind of device for my own personal use as perhaps a small-scale back-up generator to power a radio and such for when there are power outtages during summer/winter storms and after hurricanes, etc when the power can be down for days. It seems sort of silly that people PAY to throw away all that potential energy on exercise bikes at the gym that could be used to reduce their own electric bill. :) If every home had these, we could make a noticable dent in our fossil fuel energy demands. I hope to see this idea developed for people in EVERY country soon.

  9. Bappaditya Roy
    June 18, 2010, 1:06 am

    Excellent yet simple… may be thats our future… Love it!!

  10. Alexandra
    June 18, 2010, 2:04 pm

    the hyperlink still doesn’t work :(
    I hope you can fix it, because I really would like to know more about the volunteering oportunities!
    By the way, thanx for answering so quickly and for trying!

  11. Alexandra
    June 22, 2010, 2:03 pm

    It works :) Thanx!

  12. Blender Reviews
    July 9, 2010, 3:13 pm

    What an idea! I am really amazed from this great idea.

  13. Bappaditya Roy
    September 23, 2010, 2:06 am

    This article teaches how much energy we waste :( and how much more effectively it can be used :)
    Really Appreciate it!! Thanks for Sharing NG!!

  14. Irene Dawson
    February 5, 2011, 10:02 pm

    Haha, that’s amazing. Such an effecient use of energy creation. Should see this on masterchef! Also check out cooking.