Reflecting on a fabulous summer

The team has spent these last few days facilitating final capacity building sessions and wishing the groups the best before completing our work this summer in Arusha. While we are nostalgic about leaving a place we have grown so fond of and many people who have welcomed us so warmly, we look back on an incredible experience and are satisfied with our work. We made significant progress in capacity building, technical development, and impact analysis and are encouraged by the groups’ interest in continuing their relationship with DHE. We look forward to continuing our relationships with the groups and are highly encouraged by the briquette entreprenuer’s enthusiasm and dedication.

This final week has been a push to complete our final meetings, briquette production and evaluation, and guide/report writing. On Monday, the team headed out to Kisongo to conduct a kiln burn demonstration with EMORG. After doing some minor repairs to the kiln, we walked through step-by-step how to operate the kiln to produce charcoal. The staff at EMORG and the four Kisongo community members at the meeting were very engaged and enthusiastic, especially when the kiln began to the burn so well. After about 10 minutes the emissions from the kiln turned clear, the kiln became very hot after about twenty minutes, and we noticed minimal gas-leakage from the kiln. We are keeping our fingers crossed for a high charcoal yield! As an interesting side-note, one of the reasons why EMORG was interested in having a kiln is to gather the community and involve them at EMORG, which moved to Kisongo this past March. And sure enough, as the meeting progressed more and more people started to join training; by the end of the meeting the group of six people had grown to about thirteen!

On Tuesday, the team visited Vision for Youth’s worksite to demonstrate the use of their metal kiln, compound lever press, and ratchet press. Like the meeting at EMORG, Vision for Youth was enthusiastic about briquetting, and we enjoyed this final meeting with the group. After enjoying a wonderful lunch with Vision for Youth, we wished the group our best and headed back to conduct briquette evaluation back in Leganga.

And speaking of briquette evaluation, we have been conducting thorough evaluation on various briquette recipes. Briquette recipes can differ in the types of binder and filler, and we are interested in determining what recipes produce the superior briquette (essentially one that burns hot, long, and cleanly). There are three tests that we are conducting on the briquettes: the standard water boil test quantifies the energy density and rate of combustion, the drop test determines the durability of the briquette, and the charcoal comparison test helps us understand how well the briquettes work in the cooking setting.

The team also presented at Vision for Youth’s Youth day camp this past Saturday. This three day camp for youth (about ages 13-22) aimed to inspire youth and educate them about opportunities for the future. We spoke for about twenty minutes during the entrepreneurship segment of the program, and discussed briquetting, how it can be used in an entrepreneurship, and what lessons Briquetting can teach for other entrepreneurships. The one-hundred youths at the presentation appeared to be very interested in the opportunities with Briquetting and it was an honor to share our thoughts and knowledge at this event.

We also said our goodbyes to Sossy and delivered a load of about 360 briquettes to him for the Upendo group to test. Sossy and the group are very enthusiastic about continuing their work with charcoal briquettes, and welcomed DHE winter ’14 travel team to continue capacity building.

I am excited to announce the completion of the five Bioenergy Guides and the three 13X trip reports! In many ways, the guides are a culmination of years of DHE work and the 13X trip reports detail the team’s progress this summer. We produced about 160 pages in total, and it is amazing to look through the documents and think about the progress DHE has made on so many fronts.

As one of the last blogs for this summer, I want to share the team’s gratitude for our ability to work here in Tanzania. We are truly honored to be furthering the mission of Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering and to be working with so many people who deeply appreciate our help. We wanted to extend our sincerest thank you to the numerous people who have made this trip possible: fellow DHEers, Dartmouth faculty and staff, and family members of the travel teams. And we’d like to specifically thank Jessica Friedman, Holly Wilkinson, Professor Sullivan, Dean Helble, and Professor Laser.  And finally, thank you for reading our blogs, we whole-heartedly appreciate your interest.

It is like Christmas in Tanzania

With Sarah and Pallavi in Kigoma
With Sarah and Pallavi in Kigoma

Times flies. DHE also flies. Last weekend (define weekend as Thursday to Sunday), we traveled to Kigoma by very shaky airplanes to visit the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). This summer, Sarah and Pallavi from Dartmouth were working as public relations interns with JGI so we had a nice time catching up with them. For those of you who don’t know, JGI works with chimpanzees, forest conservation, and improving the livelihood of people around conservation areas. Before 2012, DHE had partnered with JGI to work on a variety of projects such as rocket stoves, loose biomass stoves, etc. In 2012, however, DHE moved away from Kigoma and JGI to work in Arusha region on briquetting. The purpose of our trip out to Kigoma was to reconnect with JGI and set up future collaborations.

We arrived in Kigoma on Thursday afternoon. From Sarah and Pallavi, we found out that Thursday is a national holiday and nobody was in the office. No big deal, we can always talk to them on Friday. But wait, Friday is also a national holiday. Up to that moment, we had felt really good flying across the country and showing up at their office. Fortunately, while hanging out around the empty offices, we ran into Kashula (our main contact) by chance. He promised a meeting with us Friday afternoon. So comes Friday afternoon, Kashula was nowhere to be seen. We ran into Mtiti (another contact), who pretty much said that Kashula was not going to show up that afternoon. Mtiti was in charge of setting up and managing internships at JGI, at least we got his blessing to show up again next winter trip.

Emily demonstrating the compound lever press
Emily demonstrating the compound lever press

Kigoma is the major city in Western Tanzania, located next to Lake Tanganyika. If the meeting attempts turned out to be not as successful as expected, at least Kigoma would be a very pretty city for hanging out. But luckily on Saturday we successfully met Kashula for a significant amount of time. He had gone on a tour around Tanzania to see all the different alternative cooking technologies. Soon, he would be holding a workshop inviting people he had met on the tour and then implementing pilot projects in villages. We were very excited about the prospect of working together on the project related to briquetting and sharing our knowledge with JGI.

This week was our second to last week in Tanzania and we have been working frantically to meet all of our promises. On Tuesday, the four of us visited Sossy from Moivaro. We had lunch together, the usual Tanzanian affair, rice and beans. Then we met with the Upendo group of women to hear their feedback on the briquettes we had brought for them to test several weeks ago. The feedback was not very positive, but at least they were honest about the briquettes. They told us that the briquettes did not burn long enough to cook a meal and smoked a lot. These briquettes were made several weeks ago. The  briquettes we made recently are totally awesome and behave much like charcoal—much better that these older versions.

James breathing fire over the metal kiln
James breathing fire over the metal kiln

During this last week, we have been experimenting with recipes and techniques, finally arriving at something we love. The briquettes we produce now cook food to completion, do not smoke, and are just as hard to light as lumped charcoal. Realizing how far we have come this summer, we promised (here we go down the slippery slope of promises) the Upendo group that we would bring briquettes 2.0 for them to test again.

On Thursday, James and Tucker brought a bunch of stuff to EMORG for briquette pressing capacity building session. The women in the group were really excited about the briquettes. Thursday was quite a busy day because Rachel and I returned to the Lulu VICOBA for their weekly briquette making session. After the women situated us on a bench so that we might have the best view of the proceedings, we were rather surprised when, instead of pulling out a briquette press and slurry, the women brought out bags of beaded bowls, tie-dyed fabric, and picture frames of banana leaf landscapes. We learned how to tie-dye a batika and how to peel the banana leaves to make a picture. During this session, it really hit home for us that briquetting is just one piece of their story. They make the briquettes to replace a portion of their firewood or charcoal and they make crafts to sell to a distributor to make money.

Lulu VICOBA member pressing briquettes
Lulu VICOBA member pressing briquettes

After the craft demonstration, the women began pressing their briquettes. Slowly and steadily, their briquette piles grew. Something our group had shared with these women over a year ago had become a part of their story and did they ever rave about the briquettes. One of the women we talked to likes the briquettes because they are good for the environment and decrease deforestation. She had seen briquetting on TV, then she was really excited when DHE showed up last year to teach them how to do it. Another woman talked about how cooking makes her happy when she uses briquettes because there is no smoke. They all expressed the desire to increase production, but complained of not having enough tools to accomplish that. Next week, we are going to surprise them with a couple of new presses and molds. It is stories like this that makes me feel like I am making a real positive impact on people here.

Rachel and the ratchet, trying to press herself up
Rachel and the ratchet, trying to press herself up

Back in Leganga, in the EARD-CI yard, we have taken up more and more space. Naomi said that we have a factory going on. In goes the biomass, out comes charcoal briquettes. Right now, we have a lot more tools and techniques than what we had merely two months ago. In addition to putting in lots of hours at work, we are enjoying the work. On Friday, we had a briquette pressing competition: two teams, first twenty briquettes twenty briquettes that pass the difficult Tim Test (our resident Dutch judge). Friendly competition of course. But I have to say that James and I won. No hard feelings, Rachel and Tucker.

It has been hard thinking of saying goodbye to this place. I am just getting used to traffic on the opposite side of the road, the Mambo! and Jambo! from passerbys, the rice and beans, and many more. For now, I am still in Tanzania and enjoying every moment. finest.se

Introducing Rick

Rick explains one of his setups, a fluorescent bulb that has been altered so that it can run off of a 12V car battery.
Rick explains one of his setups, a fluorescent bulb that has been altered so that it can run off of a 12V car battery.

He was the fairy godmother that the powers that be bestowed upon us.

Rick Masumbuko showed up one day in the middle of the Banda market and introduced himself to a mzungu that was just walking by. Sophie showed up to Kigogo that day with an unfamiliar face in tow. “This is Rick!” she called out as she arrived, and I poked my head out from the kiosk to see a small man, a backpack slung over one of his shoulders, walking right beside her.

Max, Rick, and Sophie in matching DHE gear.
Max, Rick, and Sophie in matching DHE gear.

Earlier on in the trip, we had reached out to some of the DHE alumni regarding their work in Banda. One of them was Ben Koons, and ‘08 who was responsible for the genesis of DHE hydro. In one of his emails, he recommended a Congolese man whom he had worked with when DHE first established the Banda sites. The man had previously lived in Banda but now lived somewhere else, and Ben CC’ed him on the email.

Apparently, it was simple as that. Soon after, Rick happened to check his email at the house of a friend, a Peace Corps volunteer. Within two days, he had hopped on a bus and was headed to Banda. We had no idea that he was coming, but I guess that when you’re the only group of mzungus in a village, you’re not that hard to find. Rick, as we later learned, is also little short of a local celebrity. With all of his many informants, he had no trouble finding us. He has friends throughout the village because he once lived in Banda for eight years, and whenever we walked with him, we would quickly find ourselves the awkward third or even eleventh wheel to a happy reunion.

In the two weeks that I was able to spend with Rick, I’ve grown to truly believe that he’s one of the most exceptional people that I’ve ever met. Rick is fifty-eight. He dropped out of school after primary school when his father passed away. He learned French and English while working as a tour guide for Nyungwe Forest, and he did research on primates with Europeans that he met through his work.

And they would bring him textbooks. He pored over them, applied the theory using what hardware he could find and absorbed it. Never has he attended a class, done a problem set, or had a professor guide him through a difficult concept. He is a self-taught electrician and has an exceptional understanding of his craft.

Rick met Ben while working as the receptionist at a Nyungwe lodge. Ben was on an assessment trip to find potential hydropower sites, and when they met, Rick showed him what he calls his “12-volt DC light.”

Rick's 12V DC light. Many of the components were taken from broken radios.
Rick’s 12V DC light. Many of the components were taken from broken radios.

I was confused by the terminology at first because I imagined a simple set up, the likes of what all of us have seen in intro physics: a lightbulb and a battery. Of course, Rick’s system is much more. Power-saving fluorescent bulbs are especially valuable in developing nations because of the limited supply of electricity. However, the issue with these bulbs is that they are designed for 220V AC—for use in home electrical systems. Those that use our hydro sites in Banda get their electricity by charging their 12V DC car batteries at the site. To get 220V AC, they must hook up their battery to an expensive and often unaffordable alternator.

The purpose of Rick’s bulbs is to circumvent this issue. He removes the electrical components in the fluorescent bulbs so that only the fluorescent tube is left. He then assembles a collection of transistors, resistors, electrolytic and paper capacitors, and a transformer, scavenging many of the components from broken radios. His small hands wire up a set up that can convert 12V DC to an AC voltage high enough for the bulb to light up. The user can then hook up the bulb to their 12V battery, and voila. Fluorescent light.

Rick demonstrates his 12V DC light to us with our battery.
Rick demonstrates his 12V DC light to us with our battery.

I assume that Ben was just as astonished as I was. Rick told me that Ben then realized that he was perfect for the job. Because of his work as a tour guide, Rick knew every single river and waterfall in Nyungwe, and he was clearly technically qualified.

Rick still uses the multimeter that Ben gave him in 2008 and also has a well-loved copy of Practical Electronics for Inventors—it too is a gift from Ben. Both came in handy that day he showed up at Kigogo, I briefly talked through the system with him and then pored through the book. Meanwhile, he happily drew himself a schematic of our electrical system and checked voltages with his multimeter.

This summer, the team had struggled with the realization that no matter how well we designed the system, something would fail in our absence, just as it had done so many times before. In the past, a technician new to the system would be called in from the city, and he would make decisions without entirely understanding the system. An example of this was the dump loads that were removed from the system at Kigogo. Without them, the system voltage can get too high and even cause a battery explosion. The technician had realized correctly that because the dump loads were heating up, they were taking power away from the system. However, the outside technician incorrectly assumed that removing them would simply charge batteries more quickly.

Site operator and manager training would not be enough to mitigate this issue. At one point in training, we even learned that one of the operators had trouble reading a multimeter. Rick was our saving grace. By the time he arrived, he had already planned that he would move back to Banda and work at the sites as a full time job. Three days later, he had already rented a house and was spending his nights there. We later even learned that the house didn’t yet have a bed. He was so excited to be working with electronics again that he could not be fazed.

Rick helping the site operators, his new employees, review their contract.
Rick helping the site operators, his new employees, review their contract.

Briquetting both Old and New

Hello again! Wow, it feels like a while since I’ve written here and it certainly feels like a lot has happened. Before I dive into the more official updates I would like to mention that my dad and my brother took advantage of my stay here in Arusha to come visit and see a bit of what exactly what we at DHE do. It has been wonderful to have them around and they both put in hours with us making briquettes. With them around decided to take four days off from our funded responsibilities and take some time visiting Tanzania’s national parks and conservation areas. Nice to get away from briquettes for a bit.

IMG_2353
Jumping in the Serengeti

That said, our workshop is constant making improvements and exploring better production components and processing methods. We recently discovered a much more effective means of using cassava flour as binder. As opposed to making porridge and mixing in in with the charcoal dust we have begun mixing the dust and the flour first, and then adding boiling water. Doing so spreads the starch fibers much more thoroughly through the mixture. We have also added two new briquette presses to our arsenal: a wooden compound lever press (which was used extensively last year) and something called a Farmer Jack. We are preferring these designs to the hammer press because they are a bit easier on the molds/plungers and also produce very dense briquettes.

The Farmer Jack Press
The Farmer Jack Press

On Monday, Rachel and Emily made a very exciting visit to a group that last summer’s team spent a lot of time working with, the Lulu vicoba (vicoba = community bank). We were very excited to find out that they still are regularly making briquettes for internal consumption. They are still using the same wooden compound lever press and donut mold as DHE had originally supplied and though they are not producing their own charcoal, they were able to find a source of waste charcoal fines which are being incorporating into their mixtures. The groups seems very happy with their current operation and we plan to more thoroughly document the financial and production systems they have set up.

Using the Compound Lever
Using the Compound Lever
A beautiful briquette made by the Lulu Vicoba
A beautiful briquette made by the Lulu Vicoba

 

Yesterday was quite the busy day. The team split so we could run two different capacity building sessions, both on brick kiln construction. Tucker and I, with the help of my Dad and bro, headed out to Kisongo to meet with a group of women affiliated with EMORG (Educational Model ORGanizaton). We spent the morning session talking with them about briquetting and how biomass is carbonized into charcoal. The women had no experience with making briquettes and were very interested in it from an entrepreneurial perspective. EMORG sees briquetting as potentially being their first vocational training trade and as a means to fuel an in house kitchen. In the afternoon we got our hands dirty and constructed a charcoal kiln for local waste. And Emily and Rachel went to work with Vision for Youth, the group based out of Arusha town who are starting their own business. They are very eager to start selling soon and so were very excited to have built their first kiln!

The group from EMORG looking at our instructional poster on carbonizing
The group from EMORG looking at our instructional poster on carbonizing
Vision for Youth and their kiln
Vision for Youth and their kiln

And today, bright and early, we are flying out to Kigoma where we will be having meetings with some representatives from the Jane Goodall Institute. DHE has a rich history working with JGI and I hope we can set up plans so the Bioenergy Project’s next two trips in Tanzania include more collaboration with them. JGI has expressed interest in briquettes as a reliable alternative cooking fuel and we hope that going forward we can help them put together a capacity building program for the Kigoma region. We will be sure to write again soon and thanks for checking in!

Airport photo
Airport photo