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.
Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), 2010 - $47,500
Velovations is a group of roughly thirty Michigan Tech undergraduates, graduates, researchers, and faculty performing testing, research, and development for the bicycle industry. In cooperation with Michigan Tech’s Mechanical Engineering Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program, and led by returned Peace Corps volunteers who have worked in Africa, Velovations has identified a set of bicycle product opportunities particular to East Africa. Over the next three years, Velovations will work with Cycling out of Poverty, the African Bicycle Network and others (including a designer who worked on bikes for the Tour de France and Beijing Olympics) to develop products that meet East African needs and provide opportunities for local production.
Per their market research, the students will specifically look into modifying, accessorizing, or servicing the ubiquitous Tata bike, a brand of bicycle that is omnipresent in Africa. Key issues they identified were large load carrying, a lack of female riders, men being uncomfortable using women’s bikes (conversion kits), and flat tires (the solution is an affordable solid tire).
NCIIA funding will allow for increased product development capabilities, enable travel to East Africa to solidify relationships and find new development and production partners.
The team has incorporated as Baisikeli Ugunduzi and moved to sub-Saharan Africa to work on the company directly (May 2012)
The team has a new video and a fundraising campaign (October 2012)
The lack of hygienic sanitation facilities in slums is a primary cause of 1.5 million child deaths each year. Improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrheal deaths in young children by more than a third. The Kibera Working Group (KWG), a collaboration of University of Denver faculty and graduate students, Nairobi-based water and sanitation company Ecotact, and the Rotary Clubs of Denver Southeast and Langata-Nairobi is working toward the goal of improved sanitation facilities in the Kibera slum of Nairobi.
KWG’s three main objectives are: 1) assist residents of Kibera in improving health conditions by improving the technological innovations and associated processes in the water and sanitation systems; 2) ascertain best practices in facility development and operations in order to create sustainable facilities; and 3) evaluate and refine its model. KWG is nearly finished developing its proposed model; next the model framework will be tested on existing facilities and a full-time project manager in Kenya will be enrolled to oversee the implementation and operation.
Roughly half the population of Guatemala lives on less than two dollars a day, with the majority of rural households making a living through subsistence agriculture. At the same time, the country depends entirely on unsustainable energy sources to power the economy, importing all of its fossil fuel, while most rural households use firewood as their primary cooking fuel.
To address the dual issues of poverty and environmental degradation, this grant supports the development of briquettes made from the locally available Jatropha plant and other agricultural waste to meet rural families’ cooking fuel needs. Fuel briquettes are an environmentally friendly substitute for expensive or unsustainable fuel sources and can be produced at low cost using manual technology and free raw materials—in this case, Jatropha seedstock waste left over from the production of biodiesel. The team is partnering with TechnoServe, an international NGO with an office in Guatemala that has been creating biodiesel from Jatropha since 2006. The team has prior experience in briquette production, having collaborated with an Afghani NGO to launch a successful fuel briquette microenterprise in Kabul (funded by another Sustainable Vision grant).
Soil fertility depletion on small farms is a fundamental cause of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in large parts of the developing world. Africa has the lowest fertilizer use rates in the world, leading to declining yields and incomes.
This project explores the use of locally grown cyanobacterial bio-fertilizer to empower people and improve soil fertility, crop yields, and living standards in Ethiopia. Cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) are nearly ubiquitous in nature due to their unique ability to carry out both photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation. Rice farmers in Asia have grown cyanobacteria in their paddies for centuries to improve yield, but to be of value to all farmers, this practice must be adapted so that it can be applied to a variety of crops.
This team proposes a new approach to an ancient concept: growing cyanobacteria in outdoor ponds on-farm and harvesting them for use as a fertilizer that can be applied to any crop. The team will utilize an existing collaboration with Hawassa University in Ethiopia to research the feasibility of scalable bio-fertilizer production in that country, as well as pave the way for large-scale implementation by Ethiopian entrepreneurs.
The failure of urban housing was the primary source of fatalities during the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Haitian urban construction practice uses mildly reinforced, undersized concrete columns and masonry infill walls using hand-pressed bricks called Cement Masonry Units (CMUs). Historically, buildings using CMUs perform well under the strong winds common to the Caribbean but experienced catastrophic collapses in the January 2010 earthquake. Even if the size and reinforcement of columns were increased in rebuilding efforts, the continued widespread use of CMUs would still pose a significant seismic risk in future events.
This team, which includes advisors from the Gigot Center/Business School, is developing a new housing paradigm for Haiti with the capacity to withstand the dual threat of hurricanes and earthquakes. The specific focus is on a new sustainable partitioning system for housing called Vèt Miray (Creole for “Green Wall”). Using mechanically processed local agricultural waste products, Vèt Miray has the potential to not only significantly alleviate the risk posed by CMUs, but also address other Haitian societal issues related to waste disposal and economic opportunity by providing a new green industry to the region.
Tanzanian women and children spend more than four hours each day collecting and carrying water, firewood, and other heavy goods on their heads. Not only is this practice physically crippling, but it also keeps children out of school and robs families of time that could otherwise be spent on income-generating activities. The Anza team from Brown University has a solution. They have designed a low-cost hand cart that can carry 120 liters of water or 300 pounds of goods — six times more than a woman can load on her head.
Clean water is essential to life; lack of access to it results in poor health and economic hardship. Over two academic terms in 2009, the Designmatters Department at Art Center College of Design sponsored studios in which students traveled to Chilean slums and worked directly with residents to envision, design, and test solutions addressing the lack of safe, running water. For residents of San José, Chile, the team, calling itself Safe Agua Chile, generated six solutions involving the use, storage, and transportation of water.
This grant supports an extension of the project to a Peruvian slum. The Safe Agua Peru team will look for opportunities for water system innovations, capitalizing on the field research and outcomes of the Chilean project. Designmatters students will partner with the Innovation Center of the Chilean organization Un Techo Para Mi Pais, which has offices in eighteen countries throughout Latin America. The Peru project will include a new class of degree students working on this project as part of an upper-term transdisciplinary studio.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010 - $11,000
This grant supports the creation of entrepreneurial support programming for a workshop that will challenge people living in poverty in Arusha, Tanzania to create technologies that can improve their lives. The workshop, called Accelerating Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (AISE), is the result of collaboration between MIT’s D-Lab and Global Cycle Solutions, a Tanzanian company selling pedal-powered innovations for the poor. (GCS has participated in a NCIIA VentureLab).
Arusha, like many African cities, consists of a small, urbanized center surrounded by thousands of small-scale farmers. Ninety percent of these farmers use hand tools to cultivate and harvest, and irrigation, energy, health, and sanitation technologies remain too expensive for most. The mission of the AISE workshop is to produce innovative tools and other products that will multiply the incomes of smallholder farmers and local social entrepreneurs.
The foundational idea behind AISE is to engage and train communities in the entire technology design process, empowering people to develop and disseminate their own solutions. The methodology focuses on community members as problem-solvers and technology designers.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010 - $49,900
Nearly three billion people worldwide lack access to adequate sanitation, and in slums, where over one billion live, high population densities combined with a lack of infrastructure and resources makes the problem particularly acute.
Over the past year, the Sustainable Sanitation in Urban Slums team at MIT, now Sanergy, designed, constructed and implemented a pilot modular low-cost sanitation facility customized for the residents of two slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Two low-cost technologies are the centerpiece: a (<$200) prefabricated ferrocement toilet (versus $25,000 solutions at present) and a bicycle-powered exhaustion pump for pit latrines. These technologies are combined with a holistic deployment strategy: a micro-franchised network of sanitation centers, low-cost waste collection infrastructure, and a centralized processing facility that converts waste into biogas, electricity, and fertilizer that is sold commercially.
The team is partnered with Carolina for Kibera, a US NGO set up specifically in the Kibera slum of Nairobi and Ikotoilet, an Acumen Fund grantee. The NCIIA grant will enable the team to improve the sanitation facility design, establish a fabrication workshop in Nairobi, train local workers, and expand the pilot to validate the program and product.
Updates: As of October 2012, the team continues to reach towards hygienic, accessible, affordable sanitation for everyone in Nairobi's urban slums. In the last month, they have: sold 103 Fresh Life Toilets and franchised to 50 entrepreneurs; created 122 jobs; removed 170 metric tons of waste from the community; and served 1,000,000 paying customers with hygienic sanitation.