BioSolar Entrepreneurship: Environmental and Social Sustainability as Mutual Bootstrapping

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2010 - $34,663

The West African nation of Ghana is mostly rural, with farming constituting 60% of the workforce. Many of these farms are small, but collectively they produce an enormous amount of biomaterial that is currently burned as waste. As a result, the post-harvest sky is choked with air pollution, uncontrolled wild fires are a constant threat, and the burning biomass contributes to global warming.

This team proposes to convert the post-harvest biomass into usable energy with a solar enhanced pyrolysis device. Pyrolysis, the decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-free environment at elevated temperatures, results in biofuel (gas and oil) and a biochar residue that can be used to enhance soil fertility. The team’s device uses corncobs and concentrated solar energy to convert the waste into energy and biochar with high efficiency and throughput.

The team is partnered with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. Travel funds to enable two-way student exchanges have been provided by an alumnus to enhance the project.