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!)

Markets, TLUDs, and Peanuts

Hello friends back home! Though we are quickly nearing the end of our time here in Tanzania, work with the partners has been keeping us just as busy as ever. With just one more week left on the trip itinerary, we are scurrying back and forth every day to ensure that each group is in a good place briquetting-wise before our departure March 8th. Continuing on from the last blog post, we’ve attended another market session with the women’s group at EMORG, returned to Bernard’s shop to make adjustments to the small-scale demonstration TLUD carbonizer, and observed another pressing session with Violet Ayoub at the Vision for Youth production site.

On Wednesday, Sammie and I took our second trip to the weekly Kisongo marketplace near EMORG, where the chairwoman and two other members were continuing to market their charcoal briquettes. Despite not having purchased one of the traditional counter-weight massing scales yet for the group, we were still willing to lend our digital electronic scale for selling purposes. However, the women were adamant that this would dissuade customers and hurt sales since the latter was more foreign and less trusted. Instead, to our pleasant surprise, the chairwoman whipped out a spare scale from her storage just like the one on display in her shop. With equipment in tow, we took the 5 minute walk to the marketplace and set the supplies on an unoccupied patch of the market across from the lump charcoal sellers. Once there, the briquettes generated a lot of attention; waves of 4-6 people at a time would come and talk to the women enthusiastically about the manufacturing process. In between waves, two women took turns taking a sample of 5 briquettes in their hands and walking through the marketplace looking for potential customers. Despite the hullabaloo, only a few people actually purchased the briquettes, which were being sold again at 1,000 TSH per kg. Curious, we asked one of the lump charcoal vendors nearby if I could determine the mass of the two bucket offerings of charcoal available (instead of a mass basis, lump charcoal is traditionally sold in buckets). What we found was that a small bucket (containing about 1.8 kg of charcoal) was selling for around 800 TSH per kg, while the large bucket (containing about 7 kg of charcoal) was selling for around 700 TSH per kg. According to work done by the Legacy Foundation, briquettes should be priced below other competing fuels like charcoal to assuage the novelty and uncertainty factor associated with an unknown product, which didn’t bode well with the women’s current marketing strategy. At the end of an hour and a half when the women decided to pack up for the day, they had sold 6 kg of briquettes. Since the women can generally produce ~9 kg of briquettes per week at an average cost of ~600 TSH per kg, it may be worth investigating whether they can decrease the price to sell at least a week’s production each time they visit.

On Thursday, Anna and I went back to Bernard’s shop to further modify the small TLUD carbonizer based on the feedback from our initial burn. Adjustments included adding a separate afterburner piece with the mixing tabs pioneered by previous iterations of the loose biomass stove to provide more secondary air, knocking off the stove legs to allow the stove bottom to rest firmly on the ground to cut off primary air during the quenching phase, and using a piece of sheet metal as a lid to cover the top of the kiln and exclude air entering there during the quenching phase. After confirming the 5:1 ratio of cross-sectional area devoted to entering secondary air and primary air, we also decided to block half of the primary air holes with mud during actual operation. Our second run with dried sticks and kindling leaves proved more successful, burning more cleanly during the active phase and with a longer duration. However, when we transitioned to the quenching phase, we noticed that our lid was not appropriately air tight, so a lot of gas was escaping through the top and making the surrounding environment particularly unpleasant. After a 20 minute anaerobic period, we quenched the system with water and observed the yield. Many of the sticks that we had collected initially were of variable size, and in particular, cross sectional area. Consequently, while many of the thinner sticks were carbonized all the way through, the thicker sticks were only carbonized on the surface while the woody innards were merely torrified. Although a full scale operation should focus on carbonizing loose biomass, current experimentation has highlighted the importance of making the initial feedstock as uniform in composition as possible.

Finally on Friday, Peter and I took a trip to visit the Vision for Youth briquetting site, where we met with Violet Ayoub and three of the other members. To start, we talked about the BLSD kiln that was still running from when they loaded it 24 hours prior. They observed that the kiln was now taking longer than a day to carbonize a batch of material, and the material inside was turning into ash near the primary air holes and remaining uncarbonized over the secondary air channel. Violet recognized that the ash production was a necessary consequence of the partial air injection that is required to fuel initial combustion; however, the asymmetrical distribution of heat is proving to be a significant challenge both in terms of material conversion and operating time. After resealing the kiln, Peter talked to Violet about the small-scale TLUD that DHE has currently been investigating based on the larger oil-drum TLUDs pushed by ARTI in Dar es Salaam. We also got to observe another briquetting session with Violet. We watched the sifting process, which went relatively quickly since grinding wasn’t necessary for the torrified sawdust. The Vision for Youth team also experimented with wheat flour in their binder porridge, which worked reasonably well. With Violet leading the mixing, the slurry was also less binder-heavy than before. Pressing still proved somewhat awkward with the unusual way that material was loaded into the molds; however, we anticipate that the EMORG women’s group will have a lot to share in this regard as collaboration continues to develop. On a side note, we also enjoyed an amusing, mutual misunderstanding at one point. Violet in particular was excited about the prospect of using “groundnut” husk as a feedstock for the kiln because it is not usually fed to livestock. However, we had no idea what groundnut was, and took our fair attempts at guessing. Not walnut, not cashew, not pistachio. It was only after being shown a picture that we realized that they were talking about the peanut. It just goes to show that biomass by any other name burns just the same.

Makin’ (Village Community) Bank

With only a week and a half left here in Arusha, we are moving into the final stretch of the trip. We’re working hard, trying to accomplish everything we want to in the limited time that we have left! The rainy season has abated, and we’ve been enjoying five days of dry roads and sunshine.

Sunset over our house
Sunset over our house

On Saturday we visited EMORG to do a session on briquette pressing. We were very impressed by the efficiency of their operation—they speedily pressed out over 200 briquettes! We are helping them to look for a permanent scale that they can use to sell them, and will be returning with them to the market today. Good weather allowing, we should be able to observe the market for longer than we have previously.

Sammie helps to mix charcoal and cassava
Sammie helps to mix charcoal and cassava

Sammie, Frank and I headed out to visit our partner Lulu Vicoba on Monday. It was exciting to be able to see all of the briquettes that they’re making! They showed us the presses and molds that they are using, and demonstrated the traditional three-stone stove for us. They also showed us models of traditional Meru housing, noting that it is difficult for smoke to escape from them because they do not have windows or chimneys. This makes it really important for there to be access to smokeless cook-fuels.

Frank was able to gather many important values on Lulu Vicoba’s briquetting process, and is using them to conduct an economic analysis on their operation. Sammie collected some briquetting anecdotes, overcoming the language barrier with the help of a translator. We also gave three posters on briquetting to Lulu Vicoba. They seemed very excited about them, and eagerly promised to hang them on the walls of their office.
We’d like to thank Didas of EMORG for helping us to find a driver to get us to Lulu Vicoba’s meeting space, and Naomi of EARD-CI for finding our translator.

Yesterday Frank and I trekked out to Njiro to go to Bernard’s workshop. There are still some relics from past DHE trips here, including some rocket stove prototypes! We modified one of the old rocket stoves into a small top lit updraft kiln. It is the largest TLUD that we have made. Initial test burns have been promising, but we are planning to return to the work shop tomorrow to make some additional modifications.

Frank contemplates the new TLUD
Frank contemplates the new TLUD


Travel Team Keeps Grinding Away

Wow only 2 weeks left here in Arusha for the travel team! Big things are happening on the regular, and we have a couple things in particular that have happened since Sammie’s last post.

With the help of our friend Bernard and some skillful hands at his workshop, we finished the first prototype of a new charcoal grinder on Wednesday! While it still has room for improvement, it’s a big step toward relieving the women of the back-breaking work of grinding the charcoal with a mortar and pestle. We brought it to both Vision for Youth and EMORG on Thursday, and they were both grateful for its potential to improve the process. EMORG had a carpenter look at the design today and they should have a bigger version of it soon!

Sharing the grinder prototype with Vision for Youth
Sharing the grinder prototype with Vision for Youth

The excitement didn’t stop at the grinder for EMORG and Vision for Youth, though. Yesterday we got the leaders of the two groups to meet for the first time – the first of many we hope! Since we’re only here for another 2 weeks, it’s crucial that knowledge on briquetting can continue to be spread in Arusha after we leave. It’s exciting to see the different briquetting groups start to network in ways that will be mutually beneficial moving forward. The meeting went so well that EMORG invited the Vision for Youth leaders out to their workspace to see how their briquetting operation works. The meeting was in Swahili so we couldn’t understand much (Violet Ayoub from V4Y filled us in on the important things), but at the end I heard an enthusiastic “Karibuni” (welcome) several times from the EMORG chairwomen – always a good sign.

First meeting with Vision for Youth and EMORG together!
First meeting with Vision for Youth and EMORG together!

As for lifestyle updates, I’m basically a local now because I had to ride on the outside of a dala dala the other day – hanging on for dear life. It was a little scary especially because there was so much mud, but at least I had way more space for my head and knees than I usually do on the dala dalas! We’ve enjoyed making friends with the locals as well. Some highlights include the girls politely turning down a few marriage proposals and I got to teach some new friends how to throw a frisbee.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned!

Sammie makes a new friend
Sammie makes a new friend



Halfway Point!

We are now two and a half weeks into our trip, and thankfully spirits are still high!   It’s been a while since our last blog post (sorry!) and a lot has happened, including two birthdays and a good amount of progress.  We have now had meetings with EMORG, Upendo and have a meeting with Lulu VICOBA tomorrow.

The women’s group at EMORG is doing great work with their briquetting operation.  We have seen a charcoal processing session as well as their final products.  Their briquettes are beautiful and they are able to make them in fairly large quantities (about 400 per week).  We have noticed, though, that the grinding process has been very labor intensive.  They are using a mortar and pestle and it takes about two hours to process their charcoal.  Peter and I tried it out, and it’s pretty hard work (I can’t imagine doing it for two hours!).  They’ve said that a machine would make their charcoal grinding easier and more efficient, so Frank and Peter are working on creating a processing machine for them (as well as for other groups, hopefully).  We will be working with AISE’s founder, Bernard, on this project.

Anna and I meeting with the women’s group at EMORG (and Didas!)

The other exciting news about the women’s group at EMORG is that we went to the market with them and they sold briquettes! They have been making briquettes for a long time, but have not been selling them at the market.  Unfortunately, we were only able to stay for about 15 minutes before the downpour of rain came and ended our market day.  We were able to sell some, though, and that was very encouraging.  It’s great for the women’s group to have briquette-based income so that there are tangible benefits for all of their hard work.

Vision for Youth has also shown promising progress in their briquetting operations.  Anna and I have observed their entire process now and are excited about their continued progress as we work together to increase efficiency.  We are also trying to arrange meetings between Vision for Youth and our other partners.  One of our big goals is to connect these groups together in a way that is beneficial to them, and so we are trying to set up initial meetings.  They all seem very excited to meet with each other and share ideas.

Initial meeting with UPENDO

We met once with Upendo and enjoyed seeing their space, it was very beautiful.  Unfortunately, due to conflicts, we will not be able to meet with them again until early March.  We hope, at that point, that we are able to connect them with our other partners before we have to say goodbye to Tanzania.

On a more recreational note, we spent last Saturday in Moshi at the hot springs.  They were relaxing and a great break for a day. We swam, ate chipsi mayai, and made some friends!

Peter, Anna and I in the hot springs in Moshi

Baadaye! See you later!

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The Boys Venture to Dar es Salaam

Jambo friends!

Peter and I traveled to Dar es Salaam this past Tuesday, February 4th. After an hour long taxi ride, we became well acquainted with the city’s traffic-jammed streets filled with vendors weaving between trapped vehicles and peddling everything from peanuts to giant stuffed animals to the unhappy drivers. Eventually, we made it to the Safari Inn, where we established basecamp (and enjoyed the luxury of consistent air conditioning!) for the next three days.

The next day, we got up bright and early to catch our taxi to the University of Dar to meet Dr. Rajabu, a senior lecturer in the energy engineering department and longtime collaborator with DHE since the rocket stove project. There, we also got to meet Christian “Rui” Lohri, a researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, who was serving as a co-advisor for two of Dr. Rajabu’s master students, Adam and Elia.  Despite struggling to find the Engineering College (our taxi driver, Salim, had to ask the local residents for directions), we arrived just in time to sit in on their weekly project meeting.

For their master’s work, both students are focused on developing low-cost processors for the drying and carbonization steps of converting waste biomass into charcoal. Adam’s project is a solar powered biomass dryer that uses a solar collector to heat air being drawn through a drying rack by an electric-powered fan. The solar collector also has an insert for a charcoal stove so that air can be heated during cloudy days. Elia’s project is a carbonizer made of a brick and a rotatable oil drum. Basically the rotating mechanism makes the process more efficient by using the produced pyrolysis gases to make the process self-sustaining.

After the project meeting, we had a quick lunch before we hopped into Dr. Rajabu’s car to take a bumpy road trip through Dar’s mountainous back-roads to visit several of the briquetting sites in the city. The first was a technology farm run by Tatedo (Tanzania Traditional Energy Development and Environment Organization) showcasing several batch carbonizers including dirt mounds and large scale brick-and-oil drum retorts, greenhouse biomass driers, and motorized briquetting processors such as a briquette extruder, and “pillow case” briquette press. Afterwards, we stopped by ARTI (Appropriate Rural Technology Institute) Energy’s Tanzania headquarters, where we got to see their oil drum TLUD carbonizers (essentially big scale versions of the demonstration TLUD on campus), and their hand-powered briquette extruders. To top off the visit, we talked with the executive director, Nachiket W. Potnis, and one of the program officers about their business model. ARTI expects to produce and sell 4000 tons of charcoal by the end of the year! It’s exciting to see at these places how charcoal briquetting can be successful and make an impact at a large scale.

Hujambo from Arusha!

It’s hard to believe that we have only been here in Arusha for three days! The travel team has been keeping very busy. We are picking up some Swahili, and enjoying the heat after Hanover winter. Everyone here is incredibly welcoming and friendly, and we hear “Karibu!” (welcome) everywhere that we go. And the food! I could rant about how amazing the food is for several days. We have a wonderful cook, Nema, who is teaching us about Tanzanian cuisine and Swahili.

Peter and Frank left for Dar es Salaam on Monday. They met with Dr. Rajabu today, and will return on Friday.  Before they left, we had the pleasure of meeting with Miss Ayoub, Violet, and Veda from Vision for Youth. It was wonderful to finally meet everyone after hearing so much about them from the summer team!

Vision for Youth Meeting

Sammie and I were able to meet with Vision for Youth again on Tuesday to observe a burn in their brick kiln. The travel team is using initial meetings with our partners to see what progress they have made since the summer team visited, and we were very impressed with the operation that Vision for Youth has set up. Their knowledge, skill, and ideas for the future were tremendous, and we greatly look forward to working with them further. We plan to meet with them again on Friday, to review posters that the travel team brought with us and meet the rest of their briquetting team.


We are excited to meet with the women’s group at EMORG tomorrow! Didas and Troy at EMORG have been extremely kind to us, and we are delighted to be able to finally see EMORG and meet the briquetters. We also look forward to meeting with Upendo on Saturday.

I think that’s all for now, and we will update again soon! Kwaheri!

Meet the 14W Travel Team

The 14W Tanzania Travel Team has been working together since October 2013 and has done a lot to get to this point.  We are all so excited to have the opportunity to travel to Tanzania to continue the work on DHE’s Bioenergy project.  While in Tanzania, we hope to help share information with our partners while simultaneously learning from them.  We also plan to help establish connections between our different partners in order to form a briquetting association and support network.  Finally, we hope to be able to interview and speak with our partners in order to learn and measure the impact that DHE has had in the Arusha region.  Past travel teams have done great work before us, and we hope to help the project progress even further.

Our team is so excited for this trip and we hope to reflect that in this blog.  We will be writing about our work in Arusha as well as our adventures, the people we meet, the places we see and of course, the many things that we will learn!



Anna Miller

Anna is a sophomore mechanical engineering student from Anchorage, Alaska. In DHE, she loves being able to experience the real-world application of engineering skills, particularly human centered design. She is incredibly excited to learn from and work with DHE’s partners in Tanzania, and discover how knowledge gained on campus translates into local implementation. She also really, really wants to see a giraffe, a gerenuk, and a baobab tree. Outside of DHE, Anna loves to read, play contact sports, and explore outside.


Frank Zhang

Frank (class of 2015) is a chemistry/economics double major from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  He became involved with DHE during his freshman year working to improve the loose biomass stove through principles motivated by human centered design.  Since then, he has continued to work with the Bioenergy Project, whose current focus on fuel briquetting borrows aspects from its spiritual ancestor in regards to the carbonization process.  Though more accustomed to studying biological systems, he is very excited to have the opportunity to work with the current travel team to investigate the more technical aspects of a briquetting operation, such as the flow of mass and energy and its economic feasibility.  The hope is to share DHE’s knowledge with other like-minded Tanzanians to promote energy security and environmental sustainability.  Outside of DHE, Frank spends his time as a research assistant and enjoys drawing.


Peter Lobel

Peter is a ’16 and an engineering major from Albany, New York.  As the finance and capacity building leader for the travel team this winter, he looks forward to collaborating with our partners in Tanzania and learning how to best share information across cultures.  Peter was lured to the Bioenergy project because of its focus on working with real people in a personal way to improve lives in their community; you don’t get that experience in the physics classroom.  Peter also certainly won’t be complaining about the 90-degree temperature swing from Hanover to Arusha!


Sammie Weaver

Sammie is a ’16 from Bowie, Maryland who is majoring in Sociology with an International Studies minor.  She has only recently been involved with DHE (since 13F) and was attracted to the humanitarian work.  However, she has enjoyed learning so much about the engineering side as well.  She has worked with an international development group as well as an environmental group before and is excited to be working on a project with similar goals.  In the group, she is the lead for Communications and Impact Analysis and looks forward to learning more about the operations that DHE’s Tanzanian partners are running and the progress they have made.  Sammie loves adventures and loves to travel and is so excited for this great opportunity to go somewhere new and learn!