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

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.

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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

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!

Kiln 2.0 and Improved Briquettes

I’m happy to report that all is well here in Leganga! We have made solid progress on the project and have also been continuing to enjoy our home here in Leganga. Recent discoveries include a great local restaurant, an interesting road that wanders through town, and some unfamiliar— but delicious— vegetables at the local market. The weather has been beautiful, with daily sightings of Mt. Meru and occasional views of the distant Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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Mt. Meru keeping an eye on Leganga and Arusha town.

 

      We’ve reached the midway point in the summer, and we look back on significant progress and enthusiastically look forward to more technical development, capacity building, and impact analysis in the coming month. Last Friday, we visited Vision for Youth’s proposed site for a briquette operation and discussed charcoal kilns, briquette presses, and possible worksite layouts. The work site has access to water, has adequate space, and is located close to their proposed market; all of these make their worksite seem very promising. In addition to the encouraging worksite, it was also fabulous to hear several of Vision for Youth’s creative ideas and to share our enthusiasm about briquetting.

After our weekend in Leganga, the team showed Bernard our charcoal kiln and briquette press technology. As a bit of background, Bernard is an inventor who worked with last summer’s Bioenergy travel team, and although we are no longer working on last summer’s stove design, Bernard had some incredible advice for us. He demonstrated an improved technique for mixing charcoal and binder: he showed how damp charcoal— as opposed to more water saturated charcoal— could be effectively mixed with very little cassava binder. With less cassava binder, the briquettes should be less smoky and will likely more efficient in combustion. Pressing damp charcoal also allows for a simplified briquette press; water holes or slits in the sides of the briquette mold are unnecessary, which will improve the durability of a mold. Using less cassava flour will reduce the expense of producing briquettes, especially in rural regions where cassava flour is less available. Bernard had some thoughts about our kiln design, which has led us to consider an underground counterpart to our current kiln. Underground pit kilns are fairly common, but a pit kiln could be modified using metal roofing— an easily accessible material— to create primary air holes and a chimney with secondary air, similar to our above ground kiln.

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Charcoal Kiln 2.0: new mortar and higher walls.

 

    The team recently improved the kiln to increase charcoal yield. After identifying a large amount of ash in the combustion chamber after several kiln burns, we recognized that air was likely leaking into the kiln and allowing the biomass to completely combust. As a bit of background, the kiln aims to “carbonize” the biomass into charcoal in the absence of oxygen and to prevent complete combustion into ash. A likely culprit of the air leakage was the presence of cracks in the kiln’s mud mortar. So we re-mortared the outside seams and mortared the entire inside surface using an improved mortar: a mud and lime mixture. The lime successfully reduced mortar cracking, and appears to have created a tighter seal. The team also added two additional layers of brick to the walls of the kiln, which will increase the capacity of the kiln. Right now, the mortar is still drying, but we look forward to testing the kiln tomorrow!

And on Wednesday, we presented a batch of briquettes to EARD-CI for a cook test. We were able to successfully cook a pot of rice, but unfortunately the briquettes produced an excessive amount of smoke and did not burn as efficiently as anticipated. But we did not use the improved briquettes with less cassava. As I mentioned earlier, less cassava will reduce the amount of smoke and likely improve cooking efficiency. So we look forward to testing our improved briquettes once they have finished drying!

That’s all for now; we’ll update you again soon!

 

 

It is all about the Vision

I can’t believe it is already the fourth week that we are in Tanzania. I hope everyone is having a great summer either working, studying (hi sophomore summer!), or relaxing! Last weekend, we kept ourselves quite busy.

Allow me to start from the beginning. On Saturday, we headed into Arusha town to do mzungu stuff. First thing in the morning, we met with Zainab or Mama Mpishi (the mama who cooks) to take a Tanzania cooking class. While she was going on with a list of the food we could make, we pretty much said that we wanted to cook everything. Zainab took us to a market near her home where we picked out ingredients for our meal, and the butcher’s shop to buy some meat. Then we went to her kitchen. She lives in a courtyard with four other families. A variety of activities including cooking, washing, playing, and socializing all happen in the small courtyard. The four of us proceeded to take out our notebooks and prepared to be good students.

Rachel, James, Tucker being good students and comparing notes.
Rachel, James, Tucker being good students and comparing notes (ie cheating)

The first item on the menu was chapati. It is a thin pan-fried pancake that is usually made on special occasions such as Christmas and Sundays. Basically, the main idea is that you make a dough with flour, water, oil, and salt, then layer more oil, and cook it on a frying pan. It reminds me of a very similar food my mom cooks. The steps are almost identical. It really amazes me that cooking is such a universal experience.

Emily attempting to make chapati
Emily attempting to make chapati

Last post, James talked about the meeting between us and EMORG. We were able to learn a lot more on Monday from visiting EMORG at Kisongo. Kisongo is a small village about 30 minutes from Arusha. A lot of children attending schools have no textbooks or a place to study after school. With a background in teaching, Didas started EMORG as a community library. Earlier this year, EMORG moved from a rented house to this new location that we visited. When we arrived, some teenagers were studying and discussing questions inside, while the carpenters worked on new tables and benches for the library.

Tucker and James being carpenters
Tucker and James being carpenters

We painted the wall two times in a white base paint, and once in another white paint. Afterwards, the building looked shiny with its new coat.  While we were laboring away at painting the wall, we also got a sense of Didas’ dream for EMORG. There was a half-finished building behind the library which Didas wanted to build into a vocational center with computers. Then, he wants to open up his own school for about 20-30 children, implementing an activity based teaching methodology.

The painting crew
The painting crew

Tuesday was a busy day for us with two meetings lined up. In the morning, the V4Y group came over to learn about our briquetting operation. Like we planned, we conducted a short survey asking the potential producers what they knew about briquetting and what their incomes were. Some members of the group knew more about briquetting than other members, so the survey quickly became a discussion amongst the group for sharing answers. Next time, we need to conduct individual surveys and explain that explicitly. Then, we introduced our four steps to a briquetting operation: biomass collection and drying, running a kiln, processing the mixture, and pressing. We involved all the participants in hands on demonstrations. Everyone had charcoal on them by the end. They seemed to really enjoy doing it. For us, this was the first time our group was actively involved in capacity building. It felt wonderful to have a group so eager to learn! We will be meeting with them on Friday to see their space for their business and go from there.

Rachel explaining how to pack a kiln
Rachel explaining how to pack a kiln
V4Y member pounding the charcoal
V4Y member pounding the charcoal
V4Y with their briquettes
V4Y with their briquettes

In the afternoon, we visited Sossy in Moivaro village, on the outskirt of Arusha city. Sossy is the pastor of the local church which he helped built. We met with a group of women who got together and started a briquetting operation last year which DHE helped with last summer. We were intent on finding out how the operation went. The women told us that it did not go well because the briquettes did not burn well. They felt like they spent a lot of time making the briquettes, yet what they made was not good enough to cook a meal without supplementing with charcoal. Most people in Moivaro could not afford to cook with charcoal regularly. Nowadays, even the firewood is hard to come by. The villagers either have to send their children into the forbidden forest with snakes to collect firewood or wait for outsiders to come by and sell firewood to them. The women abandoned their briquetting operation after the first unsuccessful attempt. They wanted to know if DHE was bringing in new technologies this time. We explained our process of turning biomass into charcoal and making charcoal briquettes. Sossy and the women did not seem to get how our new technology differs from the original technology. Needless to say, they were not too convinced. So the plan is we are going to make a lot of briquettes and bring the briquettes to Moivaro for them to try. If they like the new charcoal briquettes (which I think they will), only then will we be talking about a new round of capacity building. Later, Sossy invited us to his house for coffee. We learned about his vision for the people of Moivaro. I feel really inspired and humbled by people like Sossy and Didas who devote their entire career on helping people around them.

Wednesday night, we welcomed the arrival of our new housemates from the Netherlands who will be staying with us for the next five weeks. Mero, Gerrianne, Tim, and Dennis study at University College Utrecht. They will be interning at EARD-CI as part of a course on development. Specifically, Gerrianne and Tim will work on microfinance of the VICOBAs; Mero and Dennis will work on cultural tourism. They told us about their adventures travelling on a safari truck in the last four weeks in Tanzania and Kenya. I think we will have a lot of fun living together.  Between all this work, we have been running our kiln, making modifications on it, and pressing a lot of briquettes. We are going to turn into a briquette factory if we want to live up to the expectations of Sossy.

Until next time, bye!

 

Kiln to Briquettes

To begin where we left off, last weekend we busted out of Leganga and headed to Moshi for a change of scenery. On Saturday morning we caught a daladala on the Moshi-Nairobi Highway, and an hour and half later we were passing by the Coca-Cola sponsored clock tower on the north side of town. Every newspaper we saw was printed with Obama’s face in anticipation of his arrival on Monday. We spent the day walking around and exploring the streets, and stumbled upon a rice processing plant when we veered a bit off the major roads. They were drying out the grains before they were to be hulled:

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Sunday we went on a walking tour around Mataruni, a village on the southern slopes of Kilimanjaro. We were able to connect with a young man named Richard who grew up there. He had recently converted a part of his family’s farm into area to bring guests (and tourists) to demonstrate how fresh coffee beans are prepared into a brew. He showed us how a large mortar and pestle is used to remove the husk from the beans before roasting. Quite a bit of work if you wanted to do it every morning. But in the end this trip was invaluable to our larger mission this summer, and the coffee was delicious.

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One of the major ventures of this past week has been the initial experiments of our freshly constructed tanuru (charcoal kiln). The charcoal from this kiln, made from sawdust, rice husk, and corn leaves given the season, will supply a clean burning filler for making briquettes. The kiln is designed to bring a large amount to biomass to a high temperature in the presence of limited oxygen. To perhaps make this a bit simpler, but also a little bit more inaccurate, let’s think of three different reactions:

1)      Gasification of Biomass: Biomass + Heat + Air (primary air) = Ash + Syngas + Heat

2)      Pyrolysis of Biomass: Biomass + Heat = Charcoal + Syngas + Heat

3)      Combustion of Syngas: Syngas + Heat + Air (secondary air) = CO2 + H20 + Heat

A bit funny to have heat on all sides of the equations, but the point to be made is that it takes heat to get started, but once going, the reactions can produce excess heat to run to completion. Syngas, essentially biomass that turned into gas, contains several compounds but has a high percentage of hydrogen gas so we can consider it combustible. Check out a picture of Rachel doing some work on our design:

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The kiln is designed with four holes along the base which allow limited air to enter the packed biomass. This is where we begin 4 small fires to get the process going. The air will turn some of the feedstock into ash but it will also create a lot of heat which helps drives pyrolysis (reaction #2 above). So we let in a little bit of primary air into the kiln, sacrifice some of the biomass to ash, but create a lot of heat to make a bunch of charcoal. Because the top of the kiln is sealed shut, all the syngases produced get drawn into the chimney through an opening right below Rachel’s left hand. Rachel’s right hand is working on the secondary air tunnel which allows air to flow under the kiln and get preheated before entering the chimney. There the secondary air meets the syngas and a second round of combustion occurs. Most charcoal production systems in Tanzania simply allow syngas to escape, but our design will produce few emissions and create extra heat which can be fed back into the kiln.

Now we just need to figure out how to pack the kiln. Here’s a picture of the kiln filled with biomass (sawdust and rice husk). We are using some plastic pipes to make sure we can get primary air coming up from the base.

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After removing the pipes, we have nice “biomass chimneys” that cut through the feed stock. Also nice to sprinkle some corn leaves on top.

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Then take a piece of metal roofing properly cut to size and place it on top of the kiln. This will make sure that the syngas produced will enter the chimney.

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Then cover the metal roof with dirt to make a tighter seal which also acts as insulation. Remember the kiln is gonna get hot! Then start some fires in the side holes (where the primary air enters). Here Tucker and Emily are inspecting one side while Naomi and Rachel work on the other. Most of the gas coming out of the chimney at this point was water vapor.

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About 5 hours later we had dried out a bunch of wet sawdust and made a little bit of charcoal! We separated out our winnings, and I did a little physical processing to grind it up to dust. Thanks to Richard we had some experience with this before.

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Then we mixed up some cassava flour (tapioca) and water, heated it up and made a starch binder which we then added to the charcoal mash. This acted as our briquetting mixture.

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And from there we were able to start making briquettes in our new Musket Press. Exciting to see the whole process!

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But we know we can get a better yield from the kiln, so we are setting ourselves up for success. We’ve taken all the feed stock we’re planning on carbonizing and are letting it dry out in the sun. Let’s hear it for surface area to volume ratio.

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Another exciting update is that DHE has a new partner in Arusha, Vision for Youth, or V4Y, which offers health education and entrepreneurial training for young adults. Rachel and I first met with Violet, a cofounder of the organization, on Wednesday and heard that they’ve been wanting to start a charcoal briquetting operation for some time. All four of us went back to visit them again on Friday to meet with Veda, the other cofounder, and Happy, Raymond, and Pendo, some of the “youths” (they’re our age…) who are interested in briquetting. A wonderful meeting that left everyone energized! They’ll be coming out to Leganga on Tuesday to see our developing briquetting operation.

Next week will be a busy one. After meeting with Didas and Maricel from EMORG (Educational Model Organization), a growing library/vocational/community center, we promised to help them paint their new building on Monday. On Tuesday morning we have the V4Y group visiting, and then we are going to go meet Julius Sossy and the briquetting group he helped DHE begin last summer in his village of Moivaro. Then on Wednesday we will be visiting Bernard, an inventor who runs an organization to inspire young Tanzanians to solve their own technical challenges who has also helped us design stoves in the past. We want to talk to him a bit kilns and briquettes. I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say. And in between all of those visits and meetings, we’ll keep making charcoal, keep making briquettes, and keep making food. More updates soon, Kwa heri!

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!

Our New Home in Arusha

A monkey!
A monkey!

Our love for the wonderful city of Dar es Salaam has been rivaled by the beautiful views, fresh air, and rural landscape of the Arusha region. We are staying about a twenty minute drive from the Arusha center in the town Leganga, and have been enjoying our new home since our arrival on Saturday. After playing in a soccer game with town locals, eating our favorite lunch at a local restaurant (Chips Mayai, aka French Fry omelets) and seeing some wild monkeys, we feel that Leganga has offered us a warm welcome. And our initial concerns of the small size of Leganga were eased when we learned of the slightly larger town further down the road: Usa. After a ten minute walk along a road bustling with Dala-dalas, motorcycles, and huge trucks, we ventured through Usa’s streets that are lined with shops and street venders selling everything from yard rakes to cooking oil. We were easily able to bargain for and purchase the materials needed to begin our test briquetting operation. Some of our exciting purchases included a small charcoal stove, a rake for collecting grass, and aluminum cooking pots.

Part of our workspace at EARD-CI.
Part of our workspace at EARD-CI.

This summer, the team will be continuing our partnership with the Enterprise and Rural Development Community Initiatives (EARD-CI). And as a bit of background, EARD-CI is an organization based out of Arusha that has establish small community banks (called VICOBAs) with the purpose of improving the financial stability and health of rural families, as well as improving environmental conservation. EARD-CI generously allows us to meet with the VICOBA groups about the briquetting techniques. On Monday, we had a great meeting with Edith Benzi, the director of EARD-CI. We enjoyed learning about EARD-CI’s work and we also confirmed our ability to use EARD-CI’s yard as a work space. Edith also gave us the contact information for a person in Arusha who has been working to produce charcoal briquettes. Considering that this person’s work is very similar to our initiative this summer, we are very excited to contact this person and learn more about what she has been working on. Edith also offered us an EARD-CI house to rent for the summer, and this house is conveniently located across the street from EARD-CI. Today we moved into our wonderful home and we are already enjoying the comfortable setting.

A charcoal cooking stove.
A charcoal cooking stove.

In addition to meeting with Edith, we also had an informative meeting on Tuesday with Naomie, the Loan Officer for EARD-CI. Naomie has been an awesome person to work with and is very willing to help us out. From Naomie, the team gained some valuable information: that people greatly prefer charcoal briquettes over non-charcoal briquettes. This information— along with our previous understanding that charcoal briquettes have a higher energy density and burn cleaner— has led us to prioritize developing a charcoal kiln that can be used to carbonize biomass. Naomie also requested that before meeting with the VICOBA groups, we demonstrate a successful briquette cooked meal; so our current plan is to spend the next two weeks creating and testing charcoal briquettes. And to hasten the briquette making process, we plan to use cassava flour— which has naturally sticky fibers and requires no decomposition period— as a briquette ingredient.

The team has also been refining our plan for reporting and has decided to compile a collection of guides and reports. The guides are meant to be resources for DHE’s future work, with the intent that they will be updated continuously by both on-campus Bioenergy groups and travel teams in the future. The guides will have corresponding reports for this Summer 13X trip.

We eagerly await these next several days, and look forward to checking in again with you soon!