colorado state university

Engaging Ethiopian Students to Explore the Viability of Cyanobacterial Bio-fertilizer Production to Improve Soil Fertility and Crop Yields in Africa

Colorado State University, 2010 - $45,200

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.


This team has incorporated Thin Air Nitrogen Solutions LLC and launched a web site (May 2012).

Sustainable Vision TeachingLab 2011


Thanks for attending Sustainable Vision TeachingLab!

Curricular innovators from the US, Ghana, Peru and Sweden assembled at Colorado State University June 13-17, 2011 for the Sustainable Vision TeachingLab. The National Science Foundation-sponsored event was a hands-on training workshop for university faculty and instructors to develop programs or courses that support students in the process of creating market-based technology solutions for emerging markets. The perspectives, best practices and creativity of the participants, who came from over twenty different institutions and organizations, showed the growing interest and activity in this area and made the workshop a particularly rich event.

View the presentations

A multidisciplinary facilitation team with many years in the field led the workshop. The facilitators’ experiences provided examples of successful course and program models. These included building robust partnerships both within and outside colleges and universities; employing experiential learning techniques; and involving end-users in the field in every level of product development.

The Sustainable Vision TeachingLab was the first convening of this community of curricular innovators. This founding group will act as a resource to others committed to social innovation and entrepreneurship by establishing best practices and sharing experiences in the field.








Contacts & Knowledge Map

Meeting dates/times
Monday, June 13, 2011, 4:00 pm check in

Friday, June 17, 2011, 10:00 am check out

The Teachers


We're bringing together faculty leaders in the field, with many years’ experience creating and teaching courses and programs, designing technologies and products, and launching ventures in emerging markets:

Amy Smith, Founder of the D-Lab program at MIT

Paul Hudnut, Co-Director of the Global Innovation Center for Energy, Environment and Health at CSU

Anthony Marchese, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University

Paul Polak, Founder of International Development Enterprises

Bryan Willson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CSU

James Barlow, Manager of Outreach at NCIIA



Sustainable Venture Accelerator

Colorado State University, 2009 - $48,825

Student entrepreneurs in Colorado State University’s Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program build sustainable ventures with a focus on an integrated bottom line. But, since these types of ventures can require a lot of time to develop before securing financial support, several of the program’s ventures have ceased to exist due to financial, time and other development pressures. In order to help sustainability-focused student ventures actually become successful businesses or organizations as students complete their studies, this grant will help launch the Sustainable Venture Accelerator (SVA) at Colorado State University. SVA’s three main objectives are to: engage outside specialists as Entrepreneurs in Residence to mentor SVA businesses; develop a network to help advance ventures; and provide space and resources. The long-term goal is for SVA to be sustained by taking equity interest in the student start-ups it supports.

AYZH: Sheba Water Filter

Colorado State University, 2009 - $16,700

AYZH offers two products for resale by women entrepreneurs in developing markets:

  • Sheba Water Filter, a household water filter to provide high quality drinking water at a low cost
  • Clean Delivery Birth Kit: A hygiene kit for rural midwives to deliver babies for post natal health


Sheba is an innovative, low cost household water filter targeted specifically at women in rural Indian communities. It consists of a stacking system in which cloth bags filled with filter media (sand, gravel, ceramic, etc.) can be added and removed according to need. This design overcomes three problems with current water filters: slow rate of filtration, difficulty in cleaning filters, and difficulty in adapting filters to regional and seasonal variations in water.

Sheba was created in the International Developing Design Summit at MIT in 2007. Since then, the team has worked on prototyping the device. With NCIIA funding the team will further refine the design, test it in India, perform market research, re-design, and launch.


Now a non-profit called AYZH. Won a World Healthcare Congress award in 2011.

Academic Partnership for Sustainable Practices in Community Development

Colorado State University, 2006 - $7,500

This grant supports the development of a partnership between three major Colorado universities as a means of sharing resources. The goal of the partnership is to better educate engineers as social entrepreneurs for sustainable community development. The main aspect of the partnership consists of two workshops and a Partnership Resource Center that will promote the development of the tri-university partnership. The first workshop, held in the spring of 2007, will focus on institutional change and innovation while the second workshop, held in 2008, will provide a means of learning about and assessing curricular and pedagogical innovations in related engineering programs. The Partnership Resource Center will serve as a virtual regional clearinghouse to bring together resources related to sustainable community development and will serve as the main information node for participants within the academic partnership. In addition, the PIs will pilot experimental distance education courses at the three institutions as a means of generating collaborative activity among students, faculty, and staff.

Technological and Agricultural Entrepreneurship for a Globally Sustainable Future

Colorado State University, 2008 - $31,500

The Colorado State team will develop a new graduate program in sustainable technology-based entrepreneurship between CSU’s engineering and agricultural science colleges. This program aims to provide a global and sustainable entrepreneurial mindset to graduate students, and provide engineering and agricultural science expertise along with rapid product realization resources to teams in the Global Social Sustainable Enterprise program.

GSSE is a program at CSU that already exists within the graduate school of business. Each year 25 students are admitted to the GSSE who form teams to build and manage sustainable enterprises in developing countries. This grant will span two semesters at the graduate level and will be cross-listed between the College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural Science. The first semester will expose students to technology entrepreneurship fundamentals in developing economies, and during this semester students will be assigned to a GSSE team to identify and implement appropriate technology or economic approaches. Second semester, interested and demonstrably effective COE and CAS students will continue with GSSE teams as Chief Technology Officer.

Hydraulic Hybrid Retrofits for Developing Nations

Colorado State University, 2007 - $50,000

Urban air pollution contributes to approximately 800,000 deaths each year, with approximately two-thirds of the deaths occurring in the developing countries of Asia. Transportation is one of the largest contributors to air pollution and is worsening as more cars are being added to the roads. This team will help in the design, testing, manufacturing, and selling of hydraulic hybrid retrofit kits for use in buses and trucks in the developing world. Their aim is to create an economic incentive for customers, where increasing their fuel efficiency will lead to immediate savings for drivers, reducing fuel consumption by 20-30% while simultaneously reducing particulate emissions by 40-50%.

Starlight Stoves for India

Colorado State University, 2006 - $15,000

Two and a half billion people worldwide use traditional stoves for cooking, heating and lighting, resulting in severe indoor air pollution, overuse of natural resources and numerous health problems and deaths caused by smoke. There have been attempts to introduce improved stoves that minimize air pollution and reduce biomass consumption, but commercial success has been limited due to flawed designs: the stoves have robbed users of a source of light that would otherwise be obtained from an open fire. To solve the problem, this E-Team is developing the Starlight Stove, an improved stove that increases the efficiency of burning biomass while eliminating air pollution and acting as a source of light.

The stove consists of a cast-iron plate heated by an efficiency-increasing ceramic combustion chamber. Hot gas produced by the combustion of biomass is taken out of the room through a chimney. The light source, a five-watt device located above the stove and connected by a wire, is produced by a thermoelectric generator that creates a small amount of electricity when a temperature potential exists between its hot and cold sinks. The generator also has a fan to circulate warm air throughout the room.

Small Engines Enterprise

Colorado State University, 2008 - $15,300

The successful innovation of the treadle pump and its variations has increased the incomes of farmers earning less than one dollar a day in developing countries. Yet the average treadle pump lifts only 3-5m of water at 1 liter/second, requiring a farmer to operate the pump for 10-14 hours per day to irrigate half an acre. Diesel engines pump water much faster than that, but are expensive, heavy, and cost too much to run and maintain.

This E-Team is developing a one-horsepower biodiesel (or straight vegetable oil) engine that meets the water pumping and electricity generation needs of small and marginal farmers in the developing world, increasing their productivity and their income. The team has partnered with IDE, SELCO and the Energy and Engines Conversion Lab (EECL) at CSU to develop and distribute the engine. They will initially use IDE's distribution network in India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia.


Irrigation innovation - see the video

An E-Team at Colorado State University is working to reduce rural poverty by providing small farmers with clean, affordable irrigation solutions.

The Small Engines for Economic Development team is developing a one-horsepower biodiesel (or straight vegetable oil) engine that meets the water pumping and electricity generation needs of the small and marginal farmers in the developing world, increasing their productivity and their income.

See part two of the video on our Youtube channel.


Powermundo project wins sustainable future award

Last month Powermundo, an NCIIA Sustainable Vision grantee from Colorado State University, won $1,000 in the Foundation for a Sustainable Future and the William James Foundation's Richard Heinberg Prize awards.

Powermundo is a supply network that provides 'green-tech' products to the Peruvian market. Read more about the awards, visit Powermundo's website to learn more about the project, and watch a video about Powermundo.

Building a Global Sustainable Supply Chain for Appropriate Technology

Colorado State University, 2008 - $45,800

To address the fact that over half of the world's population does not have access to safe and affordable products to meet their basic needs for simple tasks, PowerMundo was established as an innovative marketing, wholesale distribution, and micro-franchise company that connects people living in poverty to a network of sustainable resources. PowerMundo collaborates with non-profit organizations, private enterprises, educational and government partners to manage a worldwide distribution network for appropriate technology products. They also support local economic development in emerging markets. PowerMundo also provides opportunities for Colorado State University students to assist in the business planning and implementation. As a result, people's lives are improved, employment opportunities are created and natural resources are conserved.

PowerMundo lantern being used in a Peruvian village.



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