Innovative Products That Matter

Greetings.  In the past week an Israeli entrepreneur named Izhar Gafni has been getting a lot of attention for an invention that could quite literally move the world forward.  His cardboard bicycle, build from 95% recycled cardboard (and other recycled materials) and costing $9 to build, could suddenly make transportation affordable for hundreds of millions of low-income people around the world.  At a mere $20 each, this bicycle offers a "game-changing" solution to the challenge of mobility in many places.  

An experienced designer of automated production processes, Gafni believed in the potential value of unusual and under-appreciated materials.  He became excited about the potential of cardboard–a material made out of wood pulp and invented in China more than 600 years ago–and spent four years working to "cancel out the corrugated cardboard's weak structural points."  Then he figured out how to form and finish the cardboard into a working and durable bicycle that could be produced and assembled anywhere.  This meant that a business would not have to rely on finding places with the cheapest labor.  Instead, these bicycles could be built anywhere creating a whole new production model.  And they have the added benefits of being environmentally-friendly and requiring little or no maintenance. Initial plans also include creating a motorized "urban bike," a smaller model for children and even low-cost wheelchairs using this new technology.

The cardboard bicycle project is a powerful reminder of how great creativity and determination can be used to build products that make a compelling difference in the world.  Which begs the question, what do you and your company know that could be applied to rethinking an important global challenge?  And what would happen if all of us took the time to use our best ideas and expertise in ways that could make the world a better, safer, healthier and more mobile place. 


We win in business and in life when we apply new and better thinking to problems that really matter.  And when we see great possibilities in the ideas and materials that other people throw away.


Roads That Create Energy

Greetings.  Innovation often means standing conventional wisdom on its head. And sometimes that implies turning difficult problems into remarkable solutions. We all know that the U.S. transportation system, with its over-dependence on roads and private automobiles, is a costly and energy-sucking way to get around. Not to mention the great expense of maintaining the physical infrastructure.  But the very clever folks at Oom Avenhorn Groep, an engineering firm based in the Netherlands, have used their collective genius to come up with a unique option. Why not create roads that actually generate energy?

And that's exactly what their "Road Energy Systems" solution does.  But since I'm not an engineer, I'll let them describe it in their own words:

"Road Energy Systems consists of a layer of asphalt that has a closed system of pipes running through it. The pipes are connected to underground aquifers (water-bearing sand).  In summer the sun heats the asphalt pavement, which in turn raises the temperature of the water in the pipes.  The water is then transported to the heat source area, where it is stored for several months.  As soon as autumn arrives, the system brings the warm water to the surface, where a heat pump raises its temperature to a level suitable for low temperature heating systems.  The surplus thermal energy is used to keep the temperature of the asphalt above the freezing point.  The asphalt cools the water to the point where it can eventually flow to the cold source.  In summer the process is reversed.  Water is pumped from the cold source and used to cool buildings."  

And here's a picture of how it works…

Ooms Road Energy 

You can learn about other innovative ways to rethink our aging infrastructure in the latest issue of Popular Science, a wonderful magazine for keeping up on a world of new ideas and technologies.

We win in business and the public sector by taking a fresh look at our most pressing problems.  Maybe the road to good intentions is paved with energy.  And maybe your biggest liabilities are really assets in disguise.