Off to Nicaragua!


Today, three DHE students will be embarking to Nicaragua on a 15-day project assessment trip. The ultimate goal of the trip is to identify a problem within a community located in Jinotega, a city in the north-central region of Nicaragua, that DHE can work on in the future. We hope to create a new project to take the place of the current bioenergy division that aligns with DHE’smission of providing sustainable, affordable, and socially-conscious solutions for communities in need.

The team consists of three students with varying specialties and expertise. Daniel Martinez ’15 is the trip leader and finance lead, and he plans to graduate with a BA in Engineering and a minor in computer science as well as a BE in June 2015. Aniksha Balamurugan ’16 is the partnership and business lead, and she is pursuing a BA in Biomedical Engineering. I’m Angie Lee, and I am a ’17 who is the lead on impact analysis. I am pursuing a Romances Languages major with Spanish and French concentrations. I also study the theory of probability and apply this knowledge to practice on the website (online casino). We have all been involved with DHE during our undergraduate careers, and we are excited to utilize our skills to make this a productive trip!

In Nicaragua, we will be working closely with Bridges to Community, an international NGO that works to improve the lives of communities in need within Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Bridges to Community has helped us schedule meetings with a diverse range of groups spanning from representative government officials to different NGO’s. Some examples of the NGO’s that we are planning to meet are El Porvenir, Asofenix, and AVODEC. Outside of the meetings, we will also be integrating ourselves into the community to begin understanding how locals live, needs they may want addressed, and looking for potential problems within the community ourselves.

Ideally, through all of our work during these 15 days, we hope to identify a problem that DHE can feasibly solve to bring back to Dartmouth. In turn, we can begin deriving a human-centered solution for the problem.

Please stay tuned on this blog to read more about our travels and progress!



It’s hard to believe it has been about two weeks since we packed up and rushed to catch our respective planes to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nairobi, Auckland and Mumbai. We had a whirlwind last few weeks switching our focus from making visits to groups, villages and communities associated with the Jane Goodall Institute to a more centered approach heavy on the resource development and final testing of briquettes before we headed home.  Resource development consisted of our hours on hours of office work dedicated to creating a full-length documentary film on DHE and bioenergy in Tanzania (thank you, Olivia!), a mini-series of videos on different technical aspects of briquetting (Dvij and Jun will be finishing these up back at Dartmouth), a full length report on our work over the past few months (my own project), and finishing up tons of translations, photo selections, report edits, impact and economic analysis additions and more (Steffi is a goddess). We also made the obligatory visit to Gombe National Park, where Jane Goodall did much of her landmark research on chimpanzees.

The team finally makes it out to Jane Goodall’s breathtaking peak at the Gombe National Park.

For final testing, we did a lot of number crunching to see what the profit margin would be for our partners’ briquetting operations – each of a different group size, with feedstocks and biomass of different costs and with kilns of different sizes. Each organization can, in fact, make a profit from briquetting! We also collected information on the quality of the briquettes – they effectively cook water, porridge, beans and more! This info was invaluable, in our opinion, because we got so many questions on exactly these points of concern and because we could send the info to our partners and give them more data on the financial and technical viability. Others interested in briquetting might reference this information and use our tested ratios of binder (the sticky porridge) to filler (the char) along with our manuals and more to make their own briquettes.

The team with Max Kennedy, another JGI intern and friend

It has been incredible to experience the applied value of briquetting, engage with communities and groups interested in learning more about bioenergy and see what might come next. While DHE does not currently have any plans to send more students to Tanzania, the project is ongoing. Last week I was so excited to present to a local Rotary club in Los Angeles about the experience and what bioenergy in Tanzania was succeeding in and what still needs work. We will continue to stay in touch with partners and continue to adapt and take bioenergy in the direction of the needs of different partner groups, communities and organizations at Dartmouth and beyond. Thank you to everyone who supported our team for what I will always remember as a remarkably special experience. A few thing’s are certain – my Swahili book is still getting a good amount of use and my Facebook is active with communication with those with whom I spent so much time. Asante tena kwa kila kitu! Until next time…

The team saying some final goodbyes at JGI in August

Doing well and having fun in Kigoma!

Updates since the last blog post…

As it turned out, finding different sizes of barrels in Kigoma was a bit of challenge. The only available barrels were standard full sized barrels. This meant that the Kigoma TLUD would have to take on somewhat of a different design compared to our Arusha TLUD. Instead of using a narrow barrel as a chimney, a sheet of metal would have to be rolled into a chimney.

Along with Max (a JGI intern) as my translator, a JGI driver and his Toyota pickup truck, I went to see a guy working at a metal shop to have the TLUD kiln built (while Dvij was recovering from his bad stomach at the lodge). He said the kiln would take a day or two to finish. Strangely enough, this guy only had his hand tools to make the kiln with. No electric power tools at all! Despite this, after the two days, the kiln was finished. It was the most eloquently built kiln that I’ve seen to date in Tanzania. It has a one meter long chimney, longer than that of our Arusha kiln.

Finding the appropriate feedstock to carbonize in the kiln was an easier endeavor. There is a wood processing district about ten minute drive away from the town center where we managed to buy eight sacks full of saw dust for 1600 tsh each and two sacks of rice husks for even less than that.

Dvij and I found that running our new larger kiln was different to the smaller kilns in Arusha. The wood gas flame was much more vigorous and appeared to be ‘floating’ on top of the feedstock. Furthermore, each runs of the kiln was more consistent in terms of the char yield. We also found out that layering the bottom of the kiln with dry leaves and grass helped the bottom most layer of feedstock to char completely (which was an issue that we faced in Arusha).

Later in that week, we had a chance to visit two villages called Kalinzi and Simbo. Kalinzi was about 45 minutes away by car and Simbo was another 30 minutes by car from Kalinzi. Kalinzi is the region’s prominent producer of coffee while Simbo produces palm oil. We learnt that harvest of coffee occurs between August and October. We arrived just before the harvest season but there still were, literally, a mountain of coffee husks left from the previous year. The husks were free to take and local already used the husks to cook their food with. We realized here that there were big opportunities to run a sustainable briquetting operation. (We also found a rusty carcass of a rocket stove that we suspect is an artifact from previous DHE travel groups!)

In Simbo, we found a few small piles of palm fruit shells and fibers. Apparently, all the shells and fibers are burnt because there is no other use for them. The locals told us that burning these shells and fibers was a dirty process as palm oil does not burn cleanly.

In the following weeks, as the rest of our team members arrived from Arusha, we started doing demonstrations of our kiln and the briquetting process for a number of different communities.


We visited a village called Ilagala which is an hour away by car. Our original plan was to do a demonstration kiln run for a small group of people. However, as we started setting up the kiln, our demonstration run quickly became the subject of interest for the entire village. There were about 80 village elders, teens, and children who joined us in running the kiln and briquetting. Steffi and Max translated for us and handled the bombardment of questions from the villagers exceptionally well. The villagers were very curious about how the kiln worked, what kinds of feedstock could be used, and the performance of the briquettes. There were a few people who explicitly expressed their interests in building the kiln and we left them a copy of our kiln building manual.


We also held a demonstration session for the youths of Kividea (Kigoma Youth Development Association). These youths were high school aged young adults who were interested in production of alternative fuels. As we were showing the youths how to pack the kiln with feedstock, we realized that we did not bring enough of the coarse sawdust but had brought too much dense coffee husks. Initially, we were worried that the kiln might not run as well as because the denser layers would pose a significantly increase fluid resistance for the updraft of air through the feedstock. However, the kiln produced a typical yield of char (and we did not embarrass ourselves in front of all the youths). The youths were amazed by the fact that pressing the mixture of flour porridge and char produced briquettes and were eager to use the molds that we brought to pump out briquettes. The representative from Kividea who helped us to organize the occasion was also very impressed and enthusiastic about the entire process. He promised (yes, promised) us that he would build a kiln in a month or two when the organization had enough money and made us to promise him that we would email him our kiln building guide book.


One more kwaheri to Arusha!

Greetings from Tanzania!

For our final days in Arusha, we thought carefully about what the trip to Kigoma entails and how to make it a successful trip. As decided, Dvij and Jun went to Kigoma two weeks before the rest of us to start the briquetting capacity building while we wrapped up the process in Arusha. We spent most of the weekend of July 12-13 on our own getting ready for Dvij and Jun’s Monday trip to Kigoma. We prepared a presentation outlining DHE past and present briquetting operation in Arusha including lessons learnt as well as DHE’s future plans. We hope to use this presentation as an introduction to JGI and also as the start of a future partnership.

On Monday, July 14, we conducted further economic analysis so as to determine the economic feasibility of the briquetting operation. We did runs while taking into consideration the weight of the feedstock used. We also put into account the free feedstock like peanut shells, corn husks and corn cobs. Such feedstock helped lower the briquette production cost. We used an input-output ratio to measure the average yield of a given kiln run. From the average yield, we could determine the average char output per bag of sawdust purchased and the required minimum price per kg of briquettes to make a profit. We obtained the numbers we needed and we are currently in the process of completing the economic analysis.

Part of wrapping up the process in Arusha involved teaching the groups how to build a kiln and assisting them with the process of building a kiln if they express an interest in getting one. We met with Vision 4 Youth to discuss ways to modify their old kiln to incorporate the new kiln design. Their old kiln was well built but could use a lot of improvement to better the primary air flow and also make it more convenient to run. We later met with the group and made some alterations to their old kiln. We also got a chance to do two successful runs with them producing a lot of char. The kiln run was much longer than our regular kiln run. We suspect that is due to the large size of the kiln and the fact that the sawdust was not quite dry.

Vision 4 Youth kiln before modifications
Vision 4 Youth kiln before modifications

We also met with Tumaini Center, formerly presumed to be Upendo, to show them the new kiln design, how to run it and make briquettes from the char obtained. We did a run with them and made some large doughnut shaped briquettes. The two women present liked the process and suggested that we do further kiln runs with them so that they could test the quality of briquettes. The two women had proposed that we stop by Tuesday so that we could teach the process to more women from the Tumaini Center. We went to the center this Tuesday but only one of the women showed up to inform us that the group was no longer interested in making charcoal briquettes. This is something that DHE needs into take into account – while some groups are very excited about the prospect of briquetting, not all are. Why is that the case?

Meeting with Tumaini Center
Meeting with Tumaini Center

We organized a full day of kilns runs and making briquettes with EMORG last Thursday. We did three successful runs, each time explaining the process to the women—specifically focusing on how to pack the retort. The women liked the process except the idea of the retort. They thought the retort took up too much space that could be used to burn feedstock and was quite complicated. We had an interview with Mama Nuru, the head of the group. The group was enthusiastic as usual and we enjoyed working with them. We also discussed the possibility of helping them build a bigger kiln but they said that they were incapable of funding a full scale kiln. After deliberating on the matter we decided to leave one of our demo kilns with them so they can have a model before they can build a bigger one. We tested the kiln and we are confident that it will serve them well.

On Monday of our last week in Kigoma, we met with Lulu Vicoba for the first time. Lulu Vicoba is a large group of about 25 members. We did two kiln runs and pressed briquettes with them. They were pleased with the process and asked a lot of questions. They also mentioned that most members did not have charcoal stoves. We left our last demo kiln with them so they could practice using it more and maybe start a briquetting operation.

As a final wrap-up, we made a Swahili manual that outlines how to build a kiln, how to run the kiln and how to press charcoal briquettes. On our last day in Arusha, we dropped off the kiln manuals to the groups and said our goodbyes.


Olivia with Swahili manual
Olivia with Swahili manual

Bye Arusha. Hello Kigoma!

After a sudden flight cancellation on Sunday, Dvij and I (Jun) made our two day long trip to Kigoma from Arusha via Dar es Salaam on Monday. We arrived on Tuesday morning in good shape and excited (despite that Dvij had lost his luggage for his second time in Tanzania). We are staying in Royal Prince Lodge which we have found to be somewhat of a lonely place compared to the EMORG volunteer house due to the single rooms. Food from the lodge restaurant is delicious and is worth waiting through the forty minute preparation time.

On Wednesday morning (after Dvij finally got his luggage back from Air Tanzania), we made our way to JGI in order to meet Mary, Shadrak, and Mtiti. JGI is about forty minutes away from the Lodge by foot and about ten minutes away by taxi. Our meeting started off with our presentation of 14X travel team’s work so far in Arusha and of our four partner organizations. The people from JGI were genuinely interested to know more about TLUD kilns and charcoal briquetting. We presented them with cost analysis of building (around 44,000 TSH) and running a TLUD kiln made from barrels. Mary particularly seemed to be impressed by the low cost of building a kiln, and that about one man-hour was enough to produce one kilogram of briquettes. However, she did note that some people may not be willing to use cassava flour as a binder because its price has recently increased.

Our meeting then progressed on to discussing what the 14X team could do here in Kigoma. We learnt from Mary that lump charcoal is made in villages and then transported to urban centers in Kigoma for sales and consumption while women in these villages use firewood as fuel. Although cooking is usually done outside or inside a separate building, the use of firewood is still poses a health threat to both the women and their children. As we see it, there is a need discourage the use of lump charcoal in urban centers and encourage women in villages to use alternatives to firewood (possibly charcoal briquettes). Furthermore, according to the people of JGI, there are a variety of feedstock easily available in Kigoma. These include coffee husks and banana leaves in high-land regions, palm tree fruit fibers (which are used for kindling fire as they burn easily), and sawdust. Corn husks, however, are difficult to find because they are fed to animals.

During our meeting, a number of different organizations/individuals were mentioned who we could work with. Students in Root & Shoots program, Kigoma Youth Development Association, various women’s groups, and forest monitors are potential partner groups based in Kigoma but more specific details will come later with more meetings.

On the way back from JGI to Royal Prince Lodge, Dvij and I looked around the town for barrels. However, we only managed to find full sized barrels which are much bigger than the barrel we have been using for our demonstration kilns back in Arusha. We have visited three different shops but smaller barrels were nowhere to be found. There is a possibility that we may have to make a full sized kiln and roll up a sheet metal to make a chimney instead of using narrower barrels.

Our tentative plan for this week is to explore the town and find appropriate building materials and sources of feedstock so that we can start assembling a demonstration kiln and run it. Tomorrow, JGI will be providing us with a driver who can take us around the town. Hopefully, we will find what we are looking for.

On the other hand, the other half of our group staying behind in Arusha has an exciting week ahead of them. They will be conducting input/output analysis of a TLUD kiln as well as testing our briquettes against lump charcoal that was purchased in a town market a few days ago by heating up vessels of water to gauge the thermal outputs. The group will be also consult Vision For Youth to help them build and run their own TLUD kilns.


P.S. No photos this week. The internet connection is very slow and unstable!!!

A Hybrid is Born

Day fifteen in Arusha starts with a quick breakfast of peanut butter and honey on toast and a little one on one football in the backyard with Philbert. The nyama choma (roast beef) from last night has taken Jun out. I admit I feel a little uneasy too but my tough Bombay tummy is holding up well. We are off to EMORG today with a new kiln design and there’s a lot to say about it but first let’s rewind one week to last Thursday.

We spent the morning running our two demonstration kilns (See Olivia’s Busy, Busy for a brief description of their designs) to try to figure out appropriate feedstock “recipes” for the kilns. Fine feedstock must be mixed with coarse feedstock in a proportion that allows for the passage of oxygen through the substrate but that is not so airy that the flame eats through the substrate, turning it to ash.

If a larger proportion of finer and/ or damper feedstock is used, the kiln will take a longer time to produce char. Burn times typically take between 15 and 25 minutes. After packing the kiln, we dribble around 20 ml of petrol on the feedstock (petrol costs 2500 Tsh per liter). The petrol allows for a big flame for the first minute or two of the burn, depending on how densely the feedstock has been packed, this flame disappears after two to five minutes and the kiln begins to emit a thick white gas which is damp to the touch suggesting a high water content. The energy to draw this water vapour out of the kiln comes from the embers in the feedstock and the pressure gradient induced by the natural draft of the chimney. This second phase of the run usually takes between 10 and 15 minutes. After most of the water has escaped from the feedstock, the flame shoots back up with dramatic bravura. At this point the chimney and adapter are removed and a damp wooden stick is used to make sure that the combustion is occurring evenly across the surface of the feedstock. Pockets of raw feedstock are mixed around into the flame to ensure that the action front is descending symmetrically across the face of the drum. After four to five minutes the kiln is quenched with water, the char is removed, inspected, dried out and weighed.


With a better understanding of the recipes that worked well, we set off to meet with the women’s group at EMORG to run a demonstration of the Takachar-inspired kiln with sawdust they had purchased from the local market in Kisongo. The women were impressed with the quality of the char and used it along with cassava flour to press out briquettes.  The press that EMORG is currently using to produce briquettes is not able to apply sufficient pressure onto the molds and so although we were hoping to test the briquettes we made using the char we produced last Thursday, we were informed a couple days ago that, in a calamitous turn of events, the briquettes crumbled before they dried.


Our pressing woes disappeared on Monday, with a trip to Vision for Youth. Our buddy Miguel from Johns Hopkins volunteering at V4Y purchased a G clamp to use as a press. The G clamp was tremendously successful in producing well-packed briquettes that showed no indication of crumbling before drying. We are looking forward to testing these briquettes over the next few days, and introducing the concept of using a G clamp to press briquettes to the women at EMORG later today.

Although the retort kiln described in Busy, Busy produced high quality char, it was psychologically off-putting that the material in the outer barrel would burn completely to ash. In response to this, we decided to combine both designs into a hybrid by attempting to produce char both inside and outside the retort. This was achieved by using the retort in the traditional TLUD design (with holes only in the bottom of the outer barrel for air to enter and none on the side to aid combustion) and packing the outer barrel as we otherwise would have with no retort. The little metal tubes shown below were placed in with the feedstock to help the action front descend symmetrically. The thought was that the tubes would serve as reservoirs of heat so that the pyrolysis wasn’t at the behest of the wind—if the flame moved to one side, the metal would retain heat in the other, continuing the pyrolysis until the flame invariably returned.


On Tuesday we built a new cylindrical retort to replace the box-shaped retort we had previously been using. We were hoping that the added dimension of symmetry would help the action front descend more evenly and char the material in the report more consistently. However, we found that the added volume of the cylindrical retort rendered it useless. Having more volume inside the retort means that more energy is required to pyrolyse the material inside. Most of this energy comes from the material in the outer barrel. There simply wasn’t enough material in the outer barrel with this new design to get the reaction off the ground. We thus reverted to using the box retort in the hybrid kiln. We are glad though that we built the cylindrical retort and discovered this restriction on the ratio between the cross sectional areas of the retort and the outer barrel – this is definitely valuable information to document.


We have done some preliminary measurements to calculate the yield of our current hybrid kiln design (how much char is produced for a certain mass of feedstock put into the kiln), we will hold on to that data for the time being, as it probably does not reflect the true potential of the kiln. We get better at running the kiln every day and want to try a few more iterations before we publish yield statistics for our design. At this point, the yield looks promising enough to support a profitable business model. Our main goal over the next few days is to iron out the details of a business model, so that we may present it to our partner organizations instead of presenting a product in isolation.

Finally, we get to yesterday when we met with DHE constact Mr. Sossy, an associate with a women’s group in Tumaini Center in Arusha. We set up a time to meet with the women’s group, which has produced briquettes in the past, to demonstrate the new kiln design. We hope the group shares Mr. Sossy’s enthusiasm to see the new kiln. More on this later!



Busy, busy

Jambo from Tanzania! The team has been busy, busy, busy as we spend time meeting with more organizations and building demonstration kilns. On Tuesday, we met with two organizations that DHE has previously worked with: EARD-CI (Enterprise & Rural Development – Community Initiatives) and Vision 4 Youth. At EARD-CI, we met with Naomi, who told us of all the opportunities and struggles that Lulu Vicoba, the community bank of around 30 men and women that the organization oversees, has had in briquette production. When DHE arrived in 2012, they helped to set up a briquette operation. Lulu Vicoba used a mixture of sawdust, paper binder, organic materials and charcoal fines to make the briquettes you see below. Some of the filler materials are not carbonized before being processed and pressed. However, as you can see in the picture, these briquettes are not fully carbonized and are quite ashy, meaning they don’t work very well for cooking. We learned that, naturally, Lulu Vicoba needs to have higher quality briquettes in order to sell them. This is where our team comes in – we’ve been hard at work on different models of TLUD kilns and a more efficient carbonization process that will produce better char which will then produce better briquettes, and produce an income for Lulu Vicoba in the markets. We intend to meet with the group to complete our impact analysis study and to gauge the group’s interest in producing its own char.

Briquettes made for EARD-CI in previous years.
Briquettes made for EARD-CI in previous years.
We next visited Vision 4 Youth, who is experiencing similar problems. We went to the organization’s new headquarters, which are spacious and lovely. Violet, the organization’s director, told us about Vision 4 Youth’s many entrepreneurship and agricultural activities and history to date with making briquettes. Vision 4 Youth works with young people in the realms of poverty, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS and human rights violations, provides professional skill development programs and leads courses at academic institutions in the region. One of their foremost focuses is creating jobs and incomes for adolescents in order to prevent poverty, drug abuse, and street violence. They have a variety of means for doing this: they have a corn farm, a chicken farm, a briquetting operation, and more. In 2012 DHE came and built a BLSD kiln and taught a small group of young people (between ages 15 or 16 and 35) how to make briquettes. This past winter, DHE returned to make a small demo TLUD. The organization is extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of teaching youth how to make and sell briquettes – so enthusiastic, that they are currently taking apart their BLSD kiln brick by brick to rebuild at their new headquarters location. Nevertheless, there are still inefficiencies in the past two kiln models that have made it so that they can not actually make a profit off of the briquettes yet. The BLSD kiln takes 24 hours for a complete run, which poses a lot of problems. Meanwhile, the past TLUD design has been finicky and smoky as well and takes about 4 hours to burn.
Team meets Vision 4 Youth staff to discuss future briquetting plans.
Given this information from Vision 4 Youth, EARD-CI, and then EMORG a few days ago, we decided it was in our best interest to really think through a better TLUD model to demonstrate for each organization. We did quite a bit of research, and have been consulting with Takachar, a group successfully operating a TLUD organic waste fuel project in Nairobi, Kenya founded by an MIT PhD student. We’ve settled on two designs for demo kilns, keeping in mind that each better pyrolizes different materials and takes different inputs. The first design is a retort TLUD kiln like the one our team built on campus towards the end of the spring. It has a sealed inside compartment resting inside an outer metal drum, both of which are filled with feedstock. A chimney rests on top, pulling air upwards through the kiln. The sealed compartment is heated by the surrounding feedstock combustion and the inner feedstock is pyrolized. The second design, inspired by a kiln built earlier this spring at Dartmouth and by Takachar models, consists of an outer metal drum that, like the retort kiln, features air holes in its bottom for the entry of natural draft. It has an adapter piece that fits onto the bottom drum and is where combustion takes place. On top of that fits the chimney.
These past few days have been spent buying materials at the market to make these kilns. We found a metal shop with appropriate tools nearby and were able to make the two kilns in just 3 hours for the price of 18,000TSH (about 10 dollars). Today, we are taking data of kiln temperatures, measuring weights of each of our kiln inputs and outputs, and analyzing the quality of the char. We’ve purchased sawdust, collected corn cobs and asked to use the dried organic material of neighbors. We will be going to EMORG this afternoon to do educational test runs. Our ultimate hope is that our kiln designs work better, and that each group we are working with can learn about TLUD carbonization processes and potentially build their own models to turn their briquetting operations into lucrative enterprises.
Steffi at local metal shop building our kilns. Many were intrigued and came to watch the process
Steffi at local metal shop building our kilns. Many were intrigued and came to watch the process
I, Olivia, have been involved in all of these steps but as Communications Officer have mostly been documenting and reporting on everything that DHE has been doing. We’ve caught a number of great interviews with organization leaders on tape, and we are excited to share the history of DHE’s impact in the region and the story of briquetting successes and challenges encountered by each organization through a final documentary at the end of our trip. We also have helped EMORG to extend its online outreach, creating an EMORG volunteers Facebook group and a blog.
Though most of our days up have been filled to the brim with business matters – from engineering to impact analysis to communications efforts – it hasn’t all been business. The team has been having a truly great time here in Tanzania. Our guide, Phillibert, has been showing us around Arusha and all of its excitement. Our cook, Betha, has made so many tasty Tanzanian dishes though anything involving parachichi (avocado), has without a doubt been #1 on our list of culinary delights. This weekend some of us are going on safari, something that we would likely have never had the chance to do otherwise, while the rest are excited to be exploring some of the closer local attractions and national parks. We are so grateful for this opportunity, and will be back soon with more updates!

Hujambo from Arusha!

The 14X Bioenergy Project team has arrived to Tanzania! We got to the bustling city of Arusha in northern Tanzania only three short days ago. We were very warmly welcomed and picked up at Kilimanjaro Airport by Didas, the head of EMORG in Arusha. He took us to the volunteer house, where we are staying for the rest of our time here (approximately 4 weeks in Arusha). It is very homey place to come back to after a long day of working – complete with a TV to catch up on World Cup games, Dvij’s acoustic guitar, and two adorable little puppies. Betty has cooked so many delicious meals for us. The group favorite thus far has been “chapati”, a Tanzanian crêpe, and “pilau”, a deliciously tasty rice dish. We have been graciously accompanied around town by three incredible guides: Filbert, Jennifer, and Lalashi. We are so grateful to EMORG to have them with us to show us around and help us settle in.

dvij presents pic
The team in front of the EMORG volunteer house, our home for now, wearing clothes Dvij brought to us from India

We’ve only been here three days, and yet we have hit the ground running. We’ve been figuring out how to get from point A to point B in Arusha, learning Kiswahili, and setting up meetings with partner organizations. Through this blog we plan to give updates on the progress we make in our work over the course of our stay, provide some insight into the things we learn, and share some tidbits about our adventures and the people we meet.

Today, the team had its first meeting with EMORG in the Kisongo region of Arusha. EMORG is an NGO that supports the local community with a beautiful library space and school. EMORG also has a powerful women’s group that creates briquettes (wood or lump charcoal alternatives) and other goods for sale, with whom we will be working this June and July. We met the women’s group, and their leader Mama Nuru, and participated in a briquetting session with them.

emorg 8:28 women's
The women’s group at EMORG running a briquetting session

We were able to see the exact process that the women’s group uses to produce briquettes. First, they collect small bits of charcoal fines from the market which they can get for free. They grind this in a contraption that somewhat resembles a big spice grinder. A wooden bowl is filled with the charcoal bits and then those bits are smashed into a powder by large wooden staff. This powder is then mixed with a binder. The binder that the women’s group uses is a porridge-like mixture of hot water and cassava flour. The black paste of charcoal powder and binder is then pressed into disk-shaped briquette molds using gear modeled by DHE. These are then laid out to dry on a tin sheet in the sun. Once they are dry (takes approximately 3 days), the briquettes are sold in the local Kisongo market at a price of 1 kilo (22 briquettes) for 1000 TSH shillings (about 60 US cents). The women estimate that they make about 18-20 kilos of briquettes per week.

emorg 8:28
Mama Nuru, Dvij, Steffi, Jun & Bridget talking about the output from our session

The biggest issue facing the women’s group at present is that they are running out of charcoal chips to use. This comes down to two primary reasons. The first is that the government is beginning to restrict deforestation, meaning that less wood and thus less charcoal is being used nationally, meaning fewer fines available to collect at the market. The second is that due to recent, climate change-induced inclement weather many leftover chips have gotten wet in the markets or blown away. So the women are in need of a different briquette process. In times past, the women used the bottom-lit updraft (BLSD) kiln that the 13X team built. However rains and harsh weather have destroyed this kiln. The 14X team is now planning on building an educational, small-scale top-lit updraft (TLUD) to demonstrate for the women’s group, which has the advantage of being portable in case of harsh weather and also is able to take advantage of different feedstock sources – sawdust, corn husks, coffee husks, etc. The women’s group found that corn husks were not particularly effective, so we are planning to test the TLUD with sawdust which costs 2000 shillings per 100 kilos in the Arusha market and possibly kahawa or coffee husks.

Tonight we spoke to Didas about this plan, and he has helped us execute a strategy for finding materials and building an educational TLUD. He has machine equipment at his office in Arusha that we can use. If all goes well, we plan on building this TLUD by Thursday which is the next time that the women’s group meets. If it is not done in time, they also meet on Saturday.

So the plan until Thursday is to build the TLUD. Simultaneously, we also have plans to meet with previous partners from Vision 4 Youth and Lulu Vicoba. Stay tuned for more…

Baadaye (Until next time!)


Here’s a bit more about the team!

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 8.49.03 PMDvij Bajpai is a junior enrolled in the Dual Degree Engineering program with Thayer. Back at Amherst College he is a Mathematics major and he intends to major either in Electrical or Mechanical Engineering at Dartmouth. Apart from Math, Dvij loves Music, Physics, reading and coffee. Last summer Dvij investigated the dynamics of rational functions over p-adic metric spaces with Professor Robert Benedetto of the Math department at Amherst. The summer before that and through sophomore year, Dvij worked on developing a high-resolution temperature control device for laser cavities in Physics Professor David Hanneke’s lab at Amherst. Dvij was born in Mumbai and intends to go back home at some point in his career to work on infrastructure and energy projects.

IMG_0247Jun Bing
’17 graduated from Albany Senior High School in Auckland, New Zealand as a Valedictorian. At Dartmouth, he is pursuing Engineering and Economics double major. He is currently a member of Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) and Dartmouth Investment Philanthropy Program (DIPP). He will be serving as an assistant project leader for the Bioenergy group within DHE from the next fall term. During his high school days, he led a science project on carbon dioxide sequestration, which won a place in the semi-finals of the Google Science Fair 2011. He has also published a graphic non-fiction on early New Zealand history.​




Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 8.49.29 PMA proud native of San Francisco, Olivia Evans will graduate from Dartmouth College in 2014 with a B.A. in Romance Languages and minor in International Studies. Passionate about languages as a means for cross-cultural communication and understanding, particularly in an international development context, Olivia speaks French, Spanish, and Italian and is excited to get started on her fifth language, Swahili, with DHE. Olivia was able to put these languages to the test when she worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome for her junior year. At UN FAO, Olivia worked as a Communications Intern authoring stories for the Ending Hunger campaign, writing speeches, and getting to meet some of her biggest her role-models, the directors FAO, WFP, and IFAD. After Rome, Olivia went on to work for the UN FAO again her junior summer in Washington D.C. There, she was part of a 3-person team that organized World Food Day events across the United States, pitched stories that ended up in the New York Times, Forbes, and the Huffington Post, and coordinated an essay series with 43 of the foremost thought leaders in food security. After graduation, Olivia will be working for the top global communications firm, Ogilvy & Mather, in New York City. She is thrilled to be joining the DHE team this summer in Tanzania, where she will be conducting impact analysis through a variety of storytelling means.

10359018_2119731267204_8036328553974765956_oBridget Golob ‘14 is pursuing a double major in Geography and Romance Languages and a minor in Government. Bridget spent her sophomore winter in Paris on Dartmouth’s French foreign study program. She served as a Dickey / Dartmouth Center for Healthcare Delivery Science Global Health Initiative Fellow in Lima, Peru during her junior winter researching and developing emergency preparedness and response capabilities with the Hospital Nacional Cayetano Heredia. A main focus of her work was capacity building in the Lima region. Bridget was awarded a Global Health Certificate during her junior spring and spent her junior summer working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on policy development, citizen outreach and mitigation. Bridget spent her senior fall and winter preparing for and working on building clean cook stoves, latrines and a solar-powered water system outside of Siuna, Nicaragua. At Dartmouth, Bridget also serves as a Diversity Peer Advisor, President of the women’s group Link Up, and Director of Chapter Events for Alpha Phi International Fraternity. She is a Rockefeller Center for Public Policy Student Program Assistant and the Dickey Center Global Health Intern. Upon graduation, Bridget hopes to use her background in international health, policy and disaster management to pursue a career in international development and development policy.​ She will tentatively be attending King’s College in London where she will pursue a Master’s degree in Conflict, Security and Development.

IMG_0260Steffi Olesi Muhanji is a Thayer dual degree student from Vassar College. At Vassar, Steffi is a Physics major with a math and computer science correlate. She plans to major in Electrical Engineering at Thayer School of Engineering with a focus on sustainable energy systems. In her sophomore year and summer Steffi developed a functional labview program that assisted in the study of material properties of semi-conductor thin films using ultra-fast laser experiments for Professor Brian Daly’s lab at Vassar College. In addition to Engineering and Physics, Steffi enjoys dancing, running and an occasional cup of tea. Steffi was born and raised in Kenya.


Farewell, Arusha!

The view of Mt. Meru near our home in Engo


It’s crazy how quickly these 5 weeks have gone by.  I think I speak for us all when I say that although we are leaving, we are not at all ready to say goodbye to Arusha and the many wonderful people we have met here.  We are so appreciative of how welcoming everyone has been to us.   You know you’re in a welcoming place when you go to a stranger’s home (thinking it was a partner’s office) and you hear “Welcome to our home!” rather than “Who are you?”
Along with the many different forms of documentation we are working on this week, we’ve been having our wrap-up meetings with our partners.  Yesterday, we visited Vision 4 Youth for the last time.  We brought the small-scale TLUD kiln that we made in Bernard’s shop and ran a few demonstrations for them.  We were happy to leave the kiln with them with the hope that they will continue to experiment with it and eventually invest in a larger TLUD!  We also enjoyed a delicious lunch with them and they gave us some great Vision 4 Youth t-shirts.  We’re so thankful for the time they have given us, and for the amazing initiative they have taken with the project.
Peter explains the TLUD while Frank looks perplexed
Peter explains the TLUD while Frank looks perplexed
This morning we met with the women from EMORG and two representatives from Lulu VICOBA at EMORG’s workspace.   Unfortunately, EMORG’s carpenter had not completed the grinder as we had hoped, but he has promised that it will be finished by Friday.  The women have agreed to keep in touch with us and let us know how it works, we’re keeping our fingers crossed!  On a more positive note, it was great for the EMORG women to meet the representatives from Lulu VICOBA.  They discussed the differences in their briquetting techniques (Lulu VICOBA uses newspaper binder and doughnut molds, while EMORG uses cassava binder and cylindrical molds) as well as the cultural items that both groups make and sell.  We’re so happy that 3 of our groups have connected, and hope that they stay in touch in the future.
It is sad to be leaving so soon, but we hope that it is “baadaye” rather than “kwaheri.”  We have so many people to thank for making our time here so incredible.  We want to thank all of our partners for the hard work and time that they have put into this project, and we hope that we have been helpful in one way or another.  EMORG, Vision 4 Youth, Lulu VICOBA and Upendo – we have truly enjoyed working with and learning from you!  We also want to thank Didas, Troy, Bill, Nema and Reggie, who helped fill our home in Engo with tasty food and fun times.  Of course, we would also like to thank the Bioenergy team on campus for helping us get here and for staying in touch via skype every week!  Along the same lines, we are extremely grateful to our DHE advisors (Jessica Friedman, Holly Wilkinson, Charlie Sullivan, Mark Laser and Dean Helble) for this opportunity and for putting so much time and effort into helping us prepare for the trip.

Closing Time

Just kidding! It’s not quite closing time yet – we still have 3 days left! We’re in the wrap-up stages of our work here, but exciting things are still happening. In the last 3 days we’ve been able to meet with each of our 4 partners here; that might be unprecedented efficiency. Let me take you through it.

On Monday we made the trek out to Leganga where Lulu Vicoba is. We were joined by two of the leaders from Vision for Youth (both named Violet), as they continue to show their commitment to meeting the other briquetting groups in the area. This was the first time we got to observe Lulu Vicoba actually pressing briquettes, and they proved to be proficient in the process. It was also great to see the Violets from Vision for Youth being active in both learning about Lulu’s process and also sharing the knowledge they have. This information sharing was continued as Violet and Violet helped us share knowledge about how kilns work to carbonize biomass.

The action only picked up on Tuesday. First we had the privilege of meeting with Professor Karoli Njau at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology. We were thrilled to learn he has worked extensively with our friend Dr Rajabu at University of Dar es Salaam. He shared his knowledge about sources and alternative uses of waste in the area. The value of a type of waste in briquetting is determined by its competing uses. For example, vegetation such as banana leaves are valued here as food for livestock, whereas rice/coffee husks don’t have alternative uses so they can be valuable in charcoal briquetting.

We capped off the day by visiting Upendo. Upendo doesn’t usually briquette during the rainy season because of difficulty in collecting materials. This fact, combined with most of the women’s group being sick, resulted in only having one woman available to show us their process. But we overcame this difficulty and she showed us how they make doughnut shaped briquettes.

Finally, today we returned to EMORG with the intention of making some big sales at the market. But before we could do that, they surprised us with a party put on by our friends Didas and Troy. EMORG has been extremely helpful to us during our time here and we can’t thank them enough, from providing our housing to delivering for us when we’re in dire need of transportation. It was a nice chance to reflect on the last month and share some laughs with new friends. The good times continued when afterwards the women’s group sold over 10 kg of briquettes at the market!

Good Times at EMORG
Good Times at EMORG

(more pictures to come when we have better internet!)