5-Hour Energy creator to distribute 10,000 stationary bikes to power homes
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.”
While Bhargava’s monetary success has been debated by finance experts and media representatives, popular estimates say his entrepreneurial portfolio has earned him somewhere around $4 billion in personal wealth. Bhargava’s commitment to developing sustainable, affordable solutions to global issues on a huge scale have led him to research desalination systems to create potable water reserves and even a uniquegraphene cord that would harness geothermal energy.
Bhargava hasn’t given up on these projects, and his graphene cord has environmentalists and sustainability experts atwitter with either excitement or dissent, depending on who you ask. But it’s his Free Electric movement that Bhargava believes is going to revolutionize electricity for the billions of people around the world who live day to day without reliable access to power.
The Free Electric project is powered by a stationary bike–or rather, 10,000 stationarybikes– whichBhargava will distribute throughout cities and villages in India. Each bike is equipped with a battery that holds the electric charge created by the pedaling action that turns a turbine generator.Bhargava plans to test a round of 50 bikes in small villages inUttarakhand, in Northern India before rolling out the full 10,000 throughout the rest of India in the first quarter of 106.
Bhargava has promised that Free Electric bikes will be an affordable investment for Indian families, and will make them available in a variety of formats so that people can work together to bring power to their villages. Bhargava believes manufacturing costs can be kept low, so bikes can be sold for about $100, at his estimation. The bikes will be made in India, and will be simple enough that any mechanic or repairman will be able to tend to wear and tear.
One hour of pedaling is expected to power the electricity needs of a standard Indian home for a whole day, including lights and basic appliances. Bhargava envisions communities and villages pooling their resources to purchase one bike with multiple, exchangeable batteries, so that individual homes can be powered by the effort of a single communal Free Electric bike.
Critics of projects like Free Electric have suggested that people living in poverty around the world don’t want off-the-grid energy solutions, they want grid-based power in the same way so much of the developed world experiences it. Bhargava himself admitted to National Geographic that impoverished communities want the same things as those in developed nations, but he hopes that Free Electric will help people sustain themselves and their families with a responsible, renewable electricity solution in the meantime.