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Service to Humanity: Technologies for Better Living

By Kathryn LoConte

Students from Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP) Worldwide and Dartmouth Engineers Without Borders (EWB) have been working to improve living conditions in Kenya and Rwanda. Here’s an update on their projects:

Dartmouth engineers and community member work together on the micro-hydropowered generator.
Dartmouth engineers and community member work together on the micro-hydropowered generator.

Micro-Hydropower Turbine:
Over the next two to three years, students will install a micro-hydropower turbine in the water-rich Banda Village in southwestern Rwanda. The 10kW system is being designed for optimum efficiency, cost, and ease of maintenance.

“One of the driving forces behind the Rwanda project is to make a whole system that can be designed and manufactured locally,” says 2007-08 HELP/EWB president Benjamin Koons ’08. “We’re trying to back away from the standard development model where foreign-aid industries bring in first-world components. If you bring a solar panel from Japan and a pump from Germany into a rural village in sub-Saharan Africa, it’ll work great until a fuse blows. Then you’ve got $30,000 of equipment that’s sitting around gathering dust.”

An overall goal, Koons explains, is to transfer the knowledge of how to repair and sustain the turbine to the community. “If the product is successful, then the knowledge can spread naturally through the framework,” he says.

Regional components include modified bike bearings, car alternators adapted as generators, and pipe sections that will be used as buckets for the turbine. “By using locally available materials, we’re cutting the kilowatt cost by a factor of 10, which is fairly ambitious,” says Koons.

Biogas System:
In the summer of 2007, three students traveled to a health clinic in Bisate, Rwanda, to implement a biogas digester system. The project aimed to address contamination and energy issues by converting human waste into sanitized fertilizer and clean-burning fuel.

“The biogas project was a relatively low-cost, low-tech solution,” Koons says. “Instead of human waste contaminating ground water by leaching through the soil, it goes into the anaerobic digester, which is essentially a capped concrete form that contains the waste and keeps it oxygen free. When it decomposes in the absence of oxygen, you get methane, CO2, and trace elements of sulfur — which turns the waste into a great fuel source.”

Koons traveled back to Bisate in the winter of 2008 to review project results. “The sanitation system has greatly improved the clinic,” he says. “To have clean toilets that aren’t contaminating ground water is a pretty obvious improvement.”

Water Sanitation Project:

A LITTLE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS: Nick Edwards ’10 and community members lay pipes for distributing clean water in Nyamilu, Kenya. Photo courtesy of HELP/EWB
A LITTLE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS: Nick Edwards ’10 and community members lay pipes for distributing clean water in Nyamilu, Kenya. Photo courtesy of HELP/EWB

For years, Dartmouth engineers have helped improve living conditions in the village of Nyamilu, Kenya. Students installed a solar-powered water pump in 2005 and a gravity-fed water distribution system in 2007. The finished project incorporates a 30,000-liter tank and 6,000 meters of pipe that run a radius of two kilometers around the well. The distribution system brings water to 12 taps serving the primary school, church, town center, and other population clusters, meeting the drinking-water needs of 2,000 people.

Unable to travel to Kenya this summer because of violence in the area, HELP engineers plan to return as soon as possible. Meanwhile, they are maintaining contact with Nyamilu officials to ensure that clean water keeps flowing.

— Kathryn LoConte is assistant editor at Dartmouth Engineer.

For more photos, visit our Dartmouth HELP collection on Flickr.

Categories: The Great Hall, Service to Humanity

Tags: energy, humanitarian service, projects, students

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