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.
Although the ocean contains over 97% of the total water on Earth, less than 1% of world’s drinking water comes from the ocean. Desalination (the process of removing excess salt from water) on a large scale typically uses extremely large amounts of energy and requires specialized, expensive infrastructure, making it costly compared to the use of fresh water from rivers or groundwater. While most desalination technologies try to increase freshwater output by adding heat, making it an energy-intensive process, this E-Team is developing technology to harvest drinking water from the ocean using only solar energy. This is done by mimicking the water cycle: optimizing variables such as air flow, surface area, and liquid depth to increase evaporation.
The team is targeting developing countries with this technology, estimating a sixteen-gallon daily yield and a cost of $50 per unit for a scaled-down version.
The Turbohead is a re-engineered turbocharger configuration designed so that the entire mechanism resides inside the head of an engine. This design is cost effective in terms of manufacturing and installation, produces a more efficient and powerful turbo system, and eliminates many of the wear problems existing products have. The Turbohead also creates a larger potential market for turbochargers, as they are normally a specialty item. The team has completed initial feasibility testing and a patent search.
They plan to take their idea to the market by prototyping and testing their design and filing a patent. The team draws on RPI's resources to help start up a business: the Entrepreneurs Club, an Inventor's Studio, and the Rensselaer Technology Park.
Students in the team are mechanical engineering majors, with one major doubling in management. The project idea began in the NCIIA-funded course Inventor's Studio.
This team is developing a three-dimensional vertical maze game using air power. The game is conceptually based on a popular Parker Brothers video arcade game called Frogger. The game is joystick operated, and propels a ping-pong ball upward through a maze of gates and tubes using air. The game play is controlled via embedded control through a microcontroller. The microcontroller interprets the movements of the joystick and positions the servo motors that move the path gates in the game, controls the score counter and game timer, monitors photogates that track the positioning of the ball, and provides visual and audio feedback to the player.
This game is targeted for use at arcades and carnivals, selling at a lower cost than typical arcade games. An initial patent search showed no similar designs, and the team is developing a patent application. The team members are civil engineering, electrical engineering, and industrial management engineering majors.
Many families in rural Peru make yogurt and cheeses, but, due to a lack of pasteurization equipment and sanitation controls, they can’t legally sell their products in a larger market. Instead, they eat the food themselves or trade with neighbors. Building on prior work in the region and working closely with students from the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru (PUCP), this E-Team is developing affordable and easy-to-use pasteurization equipment for rural families in Peru. The need for this project comes directly from the villagers themselves, having spoken with team members while implementing a Sustainable Vision-funded project to install green homes in rural Peru. The region of Cusco is the top tourist site in the country, but the villagers have no way of getting their products certified so they can be sold to tourists. The team’s gravity-fed pasteurizer will work by causing milk to flow from an upper pan through tubing submerged in a boiling water bath. The milk flowing through the tubing should reach the appropriate temperature to kill a sufficient number of bacteria. The team, consisting of students from RPI and PUCP, has been investigating the local market. With NCIIA funding they will develop and test a pasteurizer, make sure that dairy products made using the device can achieve certification, and work with microfinance organizations to make the device available for purchase.
This E-Team is developing OsmoPure, a low-cost water purification device for developing countries based on simple membrane filtration technology. While there are a number of water filtration devices being marketed to the poor, many of them don’t work in murky water (they get easily clogged), often require a large energy input in order to work (e.g., hand pumping), and fail to remove all contaminants. OsmoPure is a compact, cartridge-based, multi-stage water purification system. To produce potable water, the user fills a plastic bottle with dirty water, screws on the purifier like you would screw on a cap and squeezes the bottle to dispense clean water. When the filter looks dirty, the user simply shakes the fluid inside to remove debris. The purifiers are meant for plastic bottles that exist currently as rubbish in the target areas, cutting production and distribution costs and creating an environmentally friendly solution to the global water crisis.
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at RPI is a well-established research and educational institution dedicated to lighting. With this grant, RPI is adding an entrepreneurial component to its MS in Architectural Sciences with a Concentration in Lighting program. To address societal and environmental needs, entrepreneurship will become an integral part of the program. With NCIIA funding, a multidisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students, along with leaders and professionals from the lighting industry, will develop a core curriculum that will make up the new entrepreneurship component. The new entrepreneurial component will include a new Leadership in Lighting Course, a master’s project (including a business plan and product prototype), as well as adding entrepreneurship to an existing Lighting Workshop. The program will be sustained by funding from RPI and outside industry partners.
Getting appropriate technology implemented in rural ares in Peru is very difficult due to the geographical dispersion of the approximately 70,000 communities living in extreme poverty. To help solve the problem, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is collaborating with two Peruvian NGOs: Grupo de Apoyo al Sector Rural at the Pontificia Universidad del Peru and the Inca-Bus mobile technology education program. The goal of the collaboration is to create and build systems for sustainable sources of energy and clean water and air for the rural population. Interdisciplinary student design teams from RPI's chapters of Engineers for a Sustainable World and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers will build the systems. Projects will be identified and evaluated based on impact on basic human needs and potential for commercialization.
Summer 2009 update: In 2008 the RPI team set up communication with Peru and received funding to build a demonstration house designed by RPI where technologies they developed were installed and tested. They designed a prototype guinea pig house, a well drilling and pumping system and an improved biomass stove and press for the reformulation of dung. By 2009 this team had also designed and built a solar-powered lighting system, dung stove chimney and drilling bit/rope-pumping system. Because of this project, several classes at RPI now have sustainable engineering components. The team received follow on funding from NCIIA in order to develop affordable and easy-to-use pasteurization equipment for rural families in Peru.
Bullex, launched at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received Advanced E-Team grants in 2003, 2004 and 2005 to develop the Intelligent Training System (ITS), an innovative fire extinguisher training device. The majority of today's live-fire extinguisher training is done by taking a bucket and filling it with kerosene or diesel, and water. After an instructor lights the fire, a trainee is given an extinguisher and told to put it out. This method is expensive, can be dangerous, and often requires a HAZMAT cleanup.
ITS makes fire extinguisher training more efficient by simulating the extinguishing of a real fire, removing costly extinguishant from the equation. First, flames are generated in a clean-burning, propane-fed pan equipped with digital sensors. If users aim properly and hit the sensors, they can quell the fire without the mess. The sensors then give out a reading on how well a trainee used the extinguisher. The device is cleaner, safer, and easier to use than the traditional training method.
Bullex launched successfully in 2003, and now has 60 employees and estimated annual sales of $7.3 million. The company was featured in Fortune Small Business Magazine after making it to the final round of the magazine's national business plan competition, receiving honorable mention. Their customers include the US Navy, Northrop Grumman, Michelin, International Truck, and Trane.
When firefighters enter a burning building, they must keep in physical contact with each other to stay together, which limits their mobility and, when contact is broken, results in injuries and fatalities. The TekAlert E-Team developed the Team Accountability Buddy System (TABS), which uses proximity-sensing wireless technology to allow firefighters to free their hands and conduct more efficient searches while maintaining team integrity. TABS allows firefighters to work a safe distance apart, determined by visibility. When a member of the group is outside the distance limit for thirty seconds, the audible and visual beacon system activates, guiding the group back to the missing firefighter. Each unit is interoperable and compatible with all other units.