Talk about cool ideas...
In a corrugated metal shack in Namibia two years ago, a teenager called Emily Cummins watched a woman trying to care for 25 children. "Some of them were just in day care while their parents were at work," she says, "some of their parents just didn't want them. Some were HIV positive." And the nursery manager's life wasn't made any easier by the fact that the children's goat's milk kept turning in the heat.
Emily Cummins, now 21, always wanted to be an inventor. When she was four years old, her grandfather gave her a hammer. "We'd collect scraps and make all sorts," she recalls. "We'd get old door knobs and use a lathe to turn them into wheels. I was particularly impressed when my granddad made a bird table out of a defunct lawnmower. So I grew up constantly inspired by the creative possibilities of recycled junk."
By the time she was 15, she'd turned her mind to solving the problems of those less fortunate. For her design and technology GCSE project she spent a day following her granddad, seeing what daily tasks he found difficult. "Toothpaste turned out to be an unexpected problem," she says. "Because of his arthritis he couldn't squeeze, so I invented a toothpaste dispenser, which he loved."
At AS-Level, she was inspired by Comic Relief footage of Africans struggling to carry water over vast distances and invented a very simple water carrier, which won her a National Sustainable Design Award in 2004.
At the award ceremony she was deeply moved by a speech by Ed Gillespie (creative Director of Futerra) on global warming and the problems of the Third World. She asked her friends: what's the one electrical device you couldn't do without? The answer was a fridge. So she set her mind to making a fridge that wouldn't need electricity and could be made from sustainable materials.
Her "solar-powered" fridge is made from two aluminium cylinders (the third most abundant element on Earth), which use little energy, are easily recyclable and work on the principle of evaporation. The gap between the cylinders is packed with wool, and water percolates from the reservoir into the wool, slowly evaporates, and takes heat out of the inner tube. A neat trick in design terms. And a potential life-saver for the Third World.
On a gap year she travelled to Africa with prototypes. "I was working at a hospital in Namibia and one of the guys who worked there lived in a township. I went to stay with him to see how the fridge could work. It was pretty exciting! We'd put liquid butter and chocolate inside and they'd come out solid.
"I'd watch women stringing up fish to dry in the sun. It'd be covered in flies or stolen, my fridge would make a big difference. At first people would laugh, then I'd teach them how to make it. The people there made one using a water butt on the outside and an old car door inside. It was incredible."
Cummins isn't your average entrepreneur. "I'm not in it for the money. My idea is that I'll just distribute leaflets around the Third World helping people make their own fridges. I'm also working on an improved design that cools to a controlled level of 4ºC — the temperature you need to transport pharmaceuticals. It would be incredible to get that out into the world."