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Student engineers evaluate their sustainable stove distribution program


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Dartmouth, Tanzania, AfricaEditor’s Note: Students from Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering are working in Tanzania to help improve sanitation and energy technologies in local villages. This series chronicles work being done by the student-led group, known as  Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) [formerly known as Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP)], to design "rocket stoves" in the village of Mwamgongo and top-light updraft design (TLUD) gasification stoves in the village of Kalinzi. The goal is to create a healthier, more energy-efficient cooking apparatus that these villagers will accept and use. DHE students are filing these dispatches from the field during their trip. This is their 20th blog post for Scientific American.

After a month of working in the villages, Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) met with Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) to evaluate community, environmental and economic sustainability of the stove distribution program.

Economic efficiency and overall utility of the Kigoma region is likely to improve after the widespread dispersion of the rocket stove due to all the related positive externalities. We expect that widespread distribution of the stove is likely to: 1) reduce incidences of acute respiratory infection (ARI), the second leading cause of death in the Kigoma region; 2) decrease deforestation and the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere; 3) reduce the amount of time spent gathering firewood; and/or 4) decrease the amount of money spent on firewood.Dartmouth, Tanzania, Africa

One’s ability to build the rocket stove also creates the potential for entrepreneurship. It is new knowledge that has now been added to the list of marketable skills in the region. The capacity building workshops of the JGI program have provided numerous individuals with the skills necessary to build the stoves, and since some villagers may be uninterested to learn how to make the stove, they can pay those who are trained to build the stove for them at a price point that functions in their market. JGI has been able to identify individuals who are promising entrepreneurs and will monitor their progress overtime.

Due to reduced fuel use, the rocket stove also clearly contributes to achieving better environmental sustainability by reducing deforestation and mitigating climate change. Dependence on wood for fuel is causing significant deforestation in the region surrounding Gombe National Park. From the water taxi from Kigoma to Mwamgongo, you can see where Gombe’s territory begins and ends—the park border stretches from the moment you first see thick forestation along the coast until an hour later when the trees disappear. The trees’ root systems play an important role in protecting soil from erosion, since roots help hold the soil together and absorb rain water, decreasing the intensity of surface run-off during seasonal heavy rains. Once the trees disappear, significant erosion can occur, washing away fertile soil and valuable soil nutrients. The run-off can even wash away entire crop fields, potentially affecting farmers and coffee-growing communities.

Dartmouth, Tanzania, AfricaFinally, inefficient wood-burning fires contribute significantly to global warming, releasing CO2 and particulate black carbon—or soot—into the atmosphere. With the widespread use of open wood fires in developing countries, soot emissions are believed to constitute 16 percent of the total human contribution to global warming. Particulate carbon stays in the atmosphere for only a few weeks, whereas CO2′s lifetime is much longer. Thus, reducing particulate carbon can produce immediate reductions in global warming.

For community sustainability, JGI and DHE wanted to deliver stoves to families that: 1) show interest; 2) will most likely maintain and use the stove properly; and 3) will benefit the most from the reduced wood usage. The first villages were actually targeted due to the high rate of HIV there. However, a major concern was that not all of these individuals selected in the program expressed a strong desire to learn about the stove, while other villagers who were not formally involved in the program clearly wanted to learn and propagate the design. We aimed to make our future program more inclusive. JGI decided to continue building upon efforts to propagate cleaner and efficient stove technology by initiating a new program based upon education.

We decided to target youth groups, which are ever-growing in the world and proving to be very productive in educating communities at a grassroots level. Prior to designing a new distribution program with JGI, DHE made arrangements to visit two secondary schools in the villages of Kalinzi and Matyazo. When we arrived, we gave brief lectures on the causes and effects of global warming, deforestation and acute respiratory infection. Our lectures were based on both general information and some of the issues particular to their region. For instance, we discussed the synergy between the effects of increased storms from global warming and the soil runoff caused by deforestation and soil erosion, which has serious implications for the local coffee plantations in the area.

 

In both schools our audience included students from Forms Three through Seven, which included adolescents from the ages 15 to 23 (some students can’t always afford to pay their school dues so it takes them longer to finish secondary school). We were curious to find out what the students already knew about the issues we intended to discuss, so we began our lectures by asking, "Why is deforestation happening?"

One student politely raised his hand, stood up and with an air of political potential announced boldly, "Deforestation is happening because we are poor, and we are forced to cook with firewood, and charcoal." The class then erupted in applause while the boy sat down and received several pats on the back from his friends. His answer was honest and truthful, and we had no choice but to agree with him. To help the students better understand our purpose—propagating the stove technology—we began explaining the root causes of deforestation, how the rocket stove will alleviate the forests from the extinction they are currently undergoing and how the sustainability of their food security would be enhanced by both protecting the forests and propagating the stove.

Chris drew an intricate diagram that demonstrated the ways in which trees and their roots protect the soil from erosion and run off, and Tim discussed how the three-stone stove produces soot emissions that damage their health and contribute to global warming. We finished the lectures by offering a lesson on how to build the rocket stove. We had a remarkable turnout. As the lesson moved forward we noticed that the intensely large group of student onlookers shrunk to a smaller group of thoroughly interested participants. The students knew that they would not be paid for their work, and they stayed due to their pure passion and interest.

We found it quite interesting and refreshing to finally find a group of energetic volunteers. Sharing this information became increasingly rewarding; because we were encouraging the future generation—our generation—to build these stoves not simply for payment but for the benefits that a sustainable environment will bring.

Images courtesy of Chris White





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  1. 1. letxequalx 3:13 am 12/28/2010

    This is a wonderful program that offers much promise in improving the quality of life for many people. There are so many program that are so much larger and so much less meaningful and sustainable – this is is how things should be done.

    Link to this

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