Trials of Communication

Communication with Tanzanians who speak limited English is a tricky balance between talking down to people and expecting too much of an understanding of English. Heat measurement devices, for instance, are difficult to explain. We were preparing to light our kiln on Friday while a VICOBA meeting took place in the other corner of the yard. Our activity around the kiln proved too much of a fascinating distracting for the meeting attendees and we were soon surrounded by a small and curious crowed. One man began asking questions about our work; what are you doing? Is that going to light? What is this for? We tried to answer as many questions as we could, assisted by Tim, one of the Dutch students who has taken an interested in our briquetting work and knows all about the work we do.

“What’s that?” asked the man, pointing to our heat sensors that we were inserting into the wood shavings.

“That’s for measuring temperature,” explains Tim. A blank look. “To see how hot. For heat. Like a thermometer? It tells you how much heat there is. Like, uh, how warm?” Gesturing with his hands he trails off.

“Oh, thermocouple. Ok,” the man says nodding. Way to whip out that terminology. I swear Tim’s jaw hit the ground. He looked quite taken aback. “Yep. That would be it. That would be the technical term.” Turning to me, “Yeah, didn’t see that one coming. Thermocouple.” Priceless.

At dinner that night, Tim told the story to the group to much laughter. “But Tim,” says Tucker. “The thermocouples say thermocouple right on them, right on the side in bold letters.” Well then. Does this make the interaction better? I don’t know but I’m still giggling.

Besides our attempts to communicate in English and Swahili which have been to varying degrees of success, we have had a very productive week. Last Saturday was the official opening of EMORG’s library (the library which we helped to paint a few weeks ago) which we arrived for promptly on Tanzanian time, by American standards, an hour and a half late. The building was shining and bright in the sun and, I do say so myself, looked beautiful. Didas and others gave speeches about the library and the community being built around it which was followed by a fabulous auction run by our very own James. James talked up the shirts and fabric quite well. I see a fulfilling time as an auctioneer in James’ future.

Sunday began a full working week for us. We now have the tanuru up and reliably running (horray!). We do a burn about every day now and produce about a 20% yield of charcoal. Basically, if we put in 17 kg of sawdust or wood shavings, we can press upwards of 300 briquettes. Slowly but surely we are covering the EARD-CI yard in drying briquettes. At the end of last week we put our stash of dry briquettes to good use by giving a few batches to Vision 4 Youth and to the Upendo group in Moivaro. Tucker and I brought the briquette batch to V4Y on Thursday for them to test themselves so they could begin thinking about pricing. But perhaps more exciting, we also gave V4Y a grant to begin their briquetting business. We just funded a start-up. That’s wicked cool. The week after next we’ll return to V4Y to help them build their very own kiln so they can start fuel production. Both we and they are very excited to finally start the physical work.

On Friday Tucker and Emily dropped of hundreds of briquettes with Sossy to pass on to the Upendo group so that they might test the briquettes and decide whether they’d like to try making their own again. The briquettes were warmly received (by everyone except the unfortunate cat which happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was stepped on, quite by accident, by Tucker. Ouch.) and the women are excited to put them to the test.

We also have one more group which we’re setting up with a briquetting operation: EMORG. During his speech at the library opening ceremony, Didas mentioned that he hoped the Americans had not forgotten that they promised to build a kiln. Well great! We decided to give another grant to EMORG to fund the supplies necessary to construct a kiln and begin a briquetting operation and the week after next we’ll return for a full day of briquetting lesson and kiln building. So many kilns to build, so little time.

After a full working week, we took some time this weekend to relax try the touristy side of Arusha. Anna and Liliana came up from Dar for the weekend and James’ father and brother flew in from New York for the week. It’s a full house! Friday, we defied all American stereotypes and won a trivia game at a fundraising night held at Mango Tree to raise funds for EMORG. Ok, so we Americans won the first two rounds and then we were joined by our 8 European friends for the last few rounds. And maybe we were 16 people on the team when the other teams only had 4 or 6 members. But hey, it was fun.

One of the weekend’s highlights was a trip to the snake park. Thanks to Emily’s research we arrived on Sunday afternoon, perfectly in time for the weekly feeding. We watched, fascinated, as live chicks were tossed unceremoniously into the snake cages and the snakes sedately slithered their way over to the chirping birds, bit them, and, well, ate them. As we learned, eating is quite the process for snakes and took some snakes twenty minutes to consume a single chick. The main attraction was the python’s lunch: live rabbit. We have plenty of pictures if anyone is really curious.

And now we are ready for our mid trip break: a safari! We head out tomorrow morning. Many pictures to follow. Lala fofofo! Sleep well!

To Build a Tanuru

Building the kiln

Time to get our hands (and some pants) dirty. During our meeting with Naomie on Tuesday, she pointed out a space in the EARD-CI yard where we could construct our tanuru, our kiln for making charcoal. With EARD-CI generously providing the space for our kiln, we had only to gather the materials and our engineering minds to build it.

As mentioned in the previous post, the idea behind the kiln is to produce charcoal out of biomass which can then be press into briquettes. By first pyrolyzing biomass (heating up the biomass in the absence of oxygen) and turning it into charcoal, the remaining carbon structure of the material will burn cleaner when burned in a cook stove. But what about the detrimental effect of the emissions released from the kiln during pyrolysis? Does it matter that the biomass is being pre-burned and converted into charcoal before being used as fuel in a cook stove? There are two main reasons for making charcoal in this manner for the briquettes (besides the fact that consumers prefer charcoal briquettes). First, we have designed our kiln to allow the syngas (gasses including hydrogen, oxides, and others) produced by the burning biomass to undergo complete combustion before leaving the kiln. In other words, when making the charcoal we burn away the harmful emissions. If the biomass were burned straight in a cookstove, it could release that carbon monoxide and other gasses in the syngas into the space where the cook is breathing. Secondly, biomass in the form of charcoal is much more energy dense than un-carbonized biomass making it a more appealing form for cooks who want to spend less time tending their fire.

The science is great in theory but our goal is to make it great in practice. Wednesday was the day to begin hunting and gathering our materials to construct our tanuru and as luck would have it (and good planning by us) Wednesday was also market day in Tengeru. We wandered through entire streets over crowded with tables and blankets filled with shoes, rows of mboga (vegetables) and dried beans, and interspersed throughout everything were tables overflowing with various buckets and cooking supplies. While Emily and I ventured to purchase vegetables using our limited knowledge of Kiswahili to varying degrees of success, Tucker and James searched for supplies for the technical side of cooking. Back at the house, the girls got to work cooking our first home cooked dinner of the summer including all manner of fresh veggies. As the food was just about done, James and Tucker returned from their visit to a brick maker with Naomie where they picked out a load of bricks to be purchased the following day.

Back at EARD-CI on Thursday, Naomie directed us to a hardware shop just down the road which supplied us with all the fun toys with which to build our kiln: tiles, a shovel, and one of those triangular spreader tools (now that was a tricky tool to explain through the language barrier). Then, with a delivery of 300 bricks, we were itching to get building.

Thursday afternoon was beautifully sunny and perfect for mixing mortar (also called mud) with our fingers, smearing that mud over bricks and our clothing, and building our kiln up, up, up. Five hours, many pictures, and several wheel barrows of dirt later we had a kiln. We’re very proud of it.

The kiln is designed with three main areas: the kiln body, the chimney, and the combustion tunnel. Biomass will be pyrolized in the kiln body and any gasses which are released during pyrolysis will be drawn into the combustion tunnel and up through the chimney. Secondary air from the front of the combustion tunnel will mix with the released syngas and ideally undergo complete combustion (or as close to as possible) in the chimney. Basically fire and biomass will go in and charcoal (hopefully) will come out. Or alternatively, as Naomie pointed out, fire and dough could go in and homemade bread could come out. Another very tempting option we should look into.

Again, this is the scientific theory, and we have these next few weeks to attempt to make it reality. With a newly constructed kiln, several bags of biomass composting in the yard, a hammer press in commission, reports being written, new friends to play football and Frisbee with, and an entire house to call our home for the next two months, I will say that this has been a productive and satisfying first week in Arusha. Baadaye! Until later!

Swahili classes and culture

[Written by Emily Li]

Habari za maisha? Greetings from the bioenergy travel team. We have been in Dar Es Salaam for the past week, and just got to Arusha this afternoon. During the week, we studied Swahili in the morning with two teachers Mama Saada and Godfrey Allen, set up by the Dickey Center. Swahili is a really interesting language to learn because it contains vocabularies from many different origins, Bantu, Arabic, English, etc. We learned the greetings, basic verbs, four different tenses, and pretty much enough to get by (we thought). Then on Wednesday, Mama Saada assigned us to talk to Tanzanians in Swahili and ask lots of questions. I talked with our favorite cab driver, Mbaraka, and he was very eager to teach me how to say everything. I asked him a pre-prescribed list of questions, but I soon realized I didn’t understand any of Mbaraka answers. In class on Thursday, we had a lot of fun learning about the market, pretending to buy and sell vegetables, and bargaining. Then on Friday, Mama Saada and Godfrey Allen took us to Kariakoo market by the dala-dala (minibus which is the preferred local method of transportation) so we could put our Swahili to the test. The ceiling of the dala-dala was so low that Tucker, our tallest group member and the only one not to get a seat, could not even stand straight. Kariakoo is the major market where the locals shop for foods, utensils, clothes, and everything else. The market area includes the main building, which is a gigantic structure with three levels, and extends to a dozen more blocks in the neighborhood. We practiced our Swahili bargaining with the shop owners. My favorite phrase is ghali sana which means “too expensive.” Rachel and I got some fabrics with printed patterns whereas James bargained for a multipurpose knife that does both peeling and cutting! We were sad that the Swahili classes ended, but I think we have a good foundation to continue our learning.

Now you wonder what have we been working on for DHE? Well, we find learning opportunities and insights everywhere we go. The city of Dar Es Salaam always bustles with life day and night, especially in Kariakoo, the area where we stayed. We had fun observing the street food vendors using their charcoal stoves and definitely took notice of the huge bags of charcoal that are sold. In fact, right next to our hotel is a yard where bags of charcoal are stored.

On Thursday, we visited Dr Rajabu of the University of Dar Es Salaam. He is a professor of mechanical engineering who specifically work on rural bioenergy, and have been an amazing advisor for DHE bioenergy for years. The university feels very different from Dartmouth. The engineering school has its own fence and checkpoints surrounding it. We met Dr Rajabu in their machine shop during a power outage, so all the professors are just hanging around. As a demonstration, Dr Rajabu lit a small, gasifier cook-stove for us. The stove uses small, jatropha seeds pellets, of the same shape and size as broken bits of number 2 pencils, as fuel. What is cool about this stove is that flame comes out in a vortex and rises up through the holes along the wall.Within ten minutes, it produces a flame high enough to start cooking. If you take off the top part of the stove, you have a simmering charcoal stove. Next, Dr Rajabu showed us the place where engineering students develop prototypes for small business. One such prototype was an industrial sized gasifier stove unit that could be used for schools and hospitals. We also saw briquettes made by an organization called ARTI in Dar Es Salaam. The organization uses the same principle as DHE to produce its briquettes—first pyrolyzing biomass into charcoal and then using that product to produce charcoal briquettes. We then turned to dinner with Dr. Rajabu where we talked about both bioenergy and non-bioenergy related topics. We talked briefly about impact analysis and how to conduct surveys as well as heard his insights on the culture and how people tend to behave in front of interviewers. Sometimes, people say things they think the interviewers want to hear because they are used to getting free stuff from the research and really want to impress. When we asked Dr Rajabu what is the best way to approach this, he says observation is very important but also added that, “I am only an engineer.” With the experience he had in the field, he was probably just being humble.

Our week in Dar Es Salaam had not been all work though. With four other Dartmouth students, we had time to explore the city. On Tuesday, we went to Coco Beach where the local people like to hang out. We definitely stood out a lot on the beach. Vendors keep coming up to us trying to sell their products. None of us ventured out to the ocean to swim, instead we spent some peaceful time lying on the beach. Friday afternoon, we took a “ferry” (actually just a little boat) out to Bongoyo Island, about thirty minutes from the Slipway. During the ride, we saw locals in canoes pulling in what we thought was a fishing net. The beach on Bongoyo Island is very different from Coco Beach; it was quite quiet and definitely touristy. We swam in the warm Indian Ocean, and later passed the afternoon napping under a huge straw umbrella. We finished our week in Dar with a beautiful sunset dinner at the Slipway and said goodbye to our Dartmouth friends. And now we’re off to our next adventure in Arusha!

The group

Meet the Travelers

After a year of working with briquettes, pyrolysis, and all things fuel, the DHE bioenergy project is getting ready to fly to Tanzania for the summer! In Tanzania we will be continuing our work with briquetting and biochar production through our work with several NGOs and local communities. We hope to facilitate an exchanging of information, between DHE and local producers and consumers of cooking fuel in Tanzania, about fuel production. We hope to share what we know about briquette production as we learn what other groups know about briquetting operations. Additionally, we hope to measure the impact of our work with cooking fuel for this summer and into future trips as well as measure the impact of our past work with rocket stoves in the Arusha region of Tanzania.

In this blog, we will document our work progress, our excursions, and the interesting people and places we meet and find along the way! The four of us are very excited for a summer in Tanzania!

Anna and Emily using the briquette press to produce briquettes


James KennedyJames

James, a chemical engineering major from the quaint city of New York, has always loved building things with his hands. He became excited by DHE’s work as soon as he learned of the organization and during his freshman summer traveled to Tanzania to work on alternative-fuel stove designs. Since then he has devoted large part of his mental capacity to DHE, spearheading the introduction of the Bioenergy Project. He is passionate about energy inequality, sustainable agriculture, climate change and environmental psychology. The fact that he is flying out of the country in a week still feels surreal, but he anticipates an amazing summer filled with good work and good people. Besides DHE he is a proud member of the ultimate team the Disco Trolls and loves making food and music with his friends.



Emily Li

Emily is a rising senior (class of 2014) double majoring in biomedical engineering and history, and has been involved in DHE since sophomore year. She hails from Beijing and now lives in Toronto. On campus, Emily is involved with cultural groups and various service projects in the Upper Valley region. She has always wanted to travel with DHE because she is passionate about developing technologies for resource-poor regions, believing that affordable technologies should be accessible to everyone. In the spring of 2013, Emily interned at Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, honing her skills communicating and surveying people from different cultures and who speak different languages. She is looking forward to bringing her skills to the impact analysis and education aspects of the trip.  In general, Emily is very excited about the potential of the briquetting technology and the opportunity to be immersing in Tanzanian culture. She loves reading, being outdoors, and is always up for an adventure.


RachelRachel Margolese

Rachel is a first-year student interested in studying engineering and environmental studies. She came to Dartmouth passionate about energy and sustainable solutions for our world-wide need for energy. With DHE, she has loved working on such basic energy solutions as briquetting and hydropower with other students. Rachel is now very excited to have the opportunity to travel to Tanzania and share that knowledge with others. With DHE, she hopes to understand how engineering technologies can be applied at the local level. Besides that, she is looking forward to meeting and interacting with local Tanzanians. In her free time, Rachel loves to be outside hiking and rock climbing with the Dartmouth Outing Club or slacklining with friends around campus.


TuckerTucker Oddleifson

Tucker is a ’16 (first-year) from Massachusetts and is considering studying a combination of engineering and pre-health, but is also exploring the social sciences. He enjoys running, playing soccer, biking, and spending time with friends outdoors. Tucker believes DHE is a perfect unity between humanitarian work, applied engineering skills, and creative problem solving based on a dynamic, human-centered design. He specifically joined the bioenergy initiative because he sees a great opportunity for individual, community, and environmental impact in Tanzania. Tucker will be managing the team’s finances and will also be overseeing the team’s medical preparedness. Tucker is looking forward to the next 11 weeks with the team and is excited for the challenges ahead.