Evan Thomas and Max Gold were two of Bernard Amadei’s earliest disciples in Engineers Without Borders-USA as undergrads at the University of Col­­orado-Boulder. Now they are taking their EWB-USA site experiences and soon-to-be-earned graduate engineering degrees in a new direction to build sustainability and long-term earning power in developing communities that once could only hope for philanthropy.

Manna’s Gold with Rwanda site colleagues.
Photo: Manna Energy Foundation
Manna’s Gold (above) with Rwanda site colleagues; Thomas and client (below)
 Thomas and client
Photo: EWB-USA

Thomas and Gold are leveraging the benefits of the first water treatment systems, biogas generators and high-efficiency cook stoves they and other EWB-USA volunteers installed in Rwanda in the past few years through a new business they hope will spread the technologies to 500 secondary schools and reach 250,000 students and teachers in the country.

Their venture, Manna Energy Foundation, aims to fund and maintain the installations by selling certified emission reduction credits (CERs) under the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), says Thomas, 25, Manna’s vice chairman. This will be the first CDM project to generate carbon credits by purifying water with solar energy rather than boiling it with non-renewable firewood, says Gold, 26, Manna chief technology officer. Thomas says the 500 systems could generate $100 million in revenue over 14 years. “The credits will put the venture in the black,” he says.

Manna won $250,000 in seed money earlier this year from the Coca-Cola Foundation for its innovation, but its executives are seeking another $1 million from equity investors, says Thomas, who is set to earn an engineering doctorate at CU in May. The enterprising engineer is on a fellowship from NASA, where he has worked doing research in microgravity fluid management. That connection lured several colleagues into Manna, including astronaut Ron Garan as chairman and Victor Bernstein, retired executive vice president of Loral Space & Communications, as CEO. “The U.N. Development Program thinks this is the best project they’ve seen,” Bernstein says. “It’s the perfect mix of enterprise and philanthropy.”

Gold plans to continue working for Manna after he receives his civil-engineering graduate degree this spring, which includes Amadei’s Engineering for Developing Communities program. But the duo’s Manna expertise is already being tapped by their EWB-USA mentor to assist in making his fuel briquette project in Afghanistan a moneymaking enterprise.