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Fortified rice, fuel cells among Tech Award winners

Al Gore receives humanitarian honor at Tech Museum event that provides prizes to projects in the areas of environment, health, biosciences economic development, equality, and education.

Dr. Joseph Adelgan's Cows for Kilowatts program won the Tech Awards 2009 Intel Environment Award. The project turns slaughterhouse waste into fertilizer and cooking gas. Elinor Mills/CNET

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Projects that turn slaughterhouse waste into energy and fertilizer, and zinc oxide from fuel cells into fertilizer, as well as programs to fortify rice with nutrients, feed Indian children, and boost wages for artisans were honored Thursday night at the Tech Awards for technology benefiting humanity.

Established in 2001, the Tech Awards recognize 15 laureates in the categories of education, equality, environment, biosciences economic development, and health. One laureate in each category receives a $50,000 cash prize. The winners were announced at a ceremony at which Al Gore, former U.S. vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, received a humanitarian award.

The Intel Environment Award went to the Cows to Kilowatts project, which Dr. Joseph Adelgan conceived of after realizing that people in his hometown of Ibadan, Nigeria, were being exposed to high levels of Salmonella, E.coli and other disease-causing microorganisms from waste runoff from the local slaughterhouse that ended up in surface water and groundwater.

"People were drinking from shallow wells," Adelgan, founder of the Global Network for Environment and Economic Development Research, said during an interview on Thursday. "People in the neighborhood were getting sick and they didn't understand why they were getting sick."

Cows to Kilowatts uses biogas technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the decomposing organic waste from the slaughterhouse. A bioreactor converts the methane and carbon dioxide into cooking gas and fertilizer. The biogas could also be used to generate electricity.

The BD Biosciences Economic Development Award was presented to the Alternative Energy Development Corp., which makes zinc-air fuel cells, an affordable, alternative energy. The fuel cells generate energy and provide light in areas of Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa without electricity, while the waste zinc oxide created by the fuel cells during energy production is used to fertilize vegetable gardens, said Rolf Papsdorf, head of the Alternative Energy Development Corp.

Dipika Matthias, project director for PATH's Ultra Rice, shows off the nutrient-fortified grain. Elinor Mills/CNET

The winner of the Nokia Health Award is tackling the problem of malnutrition in developing countries. Seattle-based PATH offers Ultra Rice, which blends micronutrients like Vitamin A and iron with rice flour into grains that look, smell, and taste like traditional rice. The grain costs 2 percent to 5 percent more than regular rice, or about 41 cents per child per year in India.

Ultra Rice enriched with iron is being fed to 60,000 school children in India, while Brazilians are eating Ultra Rice fortified with iron, zinc, folic acid, and thiamin to combat anemia, said Dipika Matthias, project director at PATH.

Every year in developing countries, Vitamin A deficiency causes about 1 million deaths, folic acid deficiency is responsible for about 200,000 severe birth defects, and more than 60,000 women die from iron deficiency during pregnancy and childbirth, according to PATH.

Winning the Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award was the Fair Wage Guide from the World of Good Development Organization. The free online tool helps artisans around the world make a decent living by calculating fair wages for their work.

The open-source platform generates a localized price analysis of wages paid to artisans in comparison to international poverty levels and helps them figure out how to modify their products to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

The goal is to get their wages to 10 percent higher than the minimum wage for their area, said Audrey Seagraves of the Emeryville, Calif.-based organization.

"Many of the artisans don't know how much to charge for the items they make," she said. The Fair Wage Guide helps them set prices that are reasonable while making a decent wage, she added.

The winner of the Microsoft Education Award went to the Akshaya Patra Foundation, a public-private partnership that uses innovative technology, smart engineering, and good management in kitchens to offer school lunches to children in India at a low cost. The program feeds millions of children lunches for $28 per child per year.

Other laureates include the mPedigree network, which offers a way for people to check that the drugs they take are not counterfeits by texting a code from the label to a server; FrontlineSMS, technology that allows people to text large groups for election monitoring and providing rural medical services; Solar Ear, rechargeable digital aids and batteries for hearing aids, and LeafView: An Electronic Field Guide, which allows field researchers to automatically identify plant species. Sean White, who developed LeafView, said he is working on an iPhone app version of the guide.

Sean White uses a Sony Vaio ultra-mobile PC to take a photo of a ginkgo leaf for analysis and matching in the Electronic Field Guide he developed. Elinor Mills/CNET News