Engineers Without Borders Uganda

Photograph courtesy Engineers Without Borders

Great Energy Challenge Innovator: Engineers Without Borders

Project: Multifunction Platform (MFP) Pilot Program

Location: Teso region, Uganda

Summary: The EWB‐USA Columbia University Uganda Program (EWB‐USA CU), in partnership with the Ugandan NGO Pilgrim, is implementing a Multifunction Energy Platform (MFP) pilot program in Pilgrim's extensive farming cooperative network. (See related story: "In Uganda, Villages Reap Benefits of 'Machine' Energy.") MFPs are comprised of a stationary diesel engine mounted on a fixed frame with various pieces of equipment such as millers, grinders, oil expellers, water pumps, and electric generators connected via a belt and pulley system. In this way, the single platform can provide a host of services including providing mechanization for agricultural processing, electricity generation, and irrigation. MFPs have been shown to be an effective piece of development infrastructure providing opportunities for significant income generation and reduction of repetitive manual labor in critical populations, namely women and children.

The MFP engines used in this project can also be modified to run off of Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) via a modification kit designed and tested at Columbia University. A vital objective of the project is to explore the use of MFPs with both traditional fossil fuels (diesel) and non‐traditional biofuels. Jatropha, a locally grown hedge crop, is quickly gaining popularity as an energy crop over many other plant oils because of its high yield (>1500 liters/hectare compared to soy at 400 liters/hectare), hardiness (requires as little rainfall as 300 mm/year), non‐edibility (avoids cost swings experienced by edible oils that are also sold into food markets), and wide availability (over 175 different species exist around the world). Also in its favor is the fact that due to its high resistance to drought and low maintenance characteristics, it can be grown in areas that would otherwise be unused for normal food crops. Jatropha is also carbon dioxide neutral, releasing only as much CO2 in its combustion process as it intakes during its growth. This quickly emerging and promising feedstock offers a possible source of sustainable energy for the MFP.

In addition to Jatropha, more traditional biofuels may be employed, sunflower oil being paramount among them. The MFP, in conjunction with an oil press attachment, could be used to press sunflower oil. The oil could then be used to fuel the engine. A great benefit of using the MFP to produce a more traditional biofuel is that any fuel not used to power the engine can be sold at local markets (in the case of sunflower oil, for ten times the price of raw sunflower seed). Thus, even if the oil is not used as fuel, it can still be sold as a lucrative, marketable product. By giving the engines the additional capability to run off of SVO, EWB‐USA CU and Pilgrim have given the co‐op members the option of biofuel energy sources for use in agricultural processing and electricity generation; however, ultimately the choice of how to power the MFP will be made by the members themselves based on the economic, agricultural, and physical conditions of their situation.

Goal: Empower farmers to maximize their raw goods, create a sustainable agricultural processing business, and generate electricity

Project participants:

  • Engineers Without Borders (Joey Zambito, EWB principle mentor; Stephen Forbes, EWB mentor; Alyce Ge, program manager; Rebecca Ciez, program manager; Alison Ferris, program manager)
  • Pilgrim (Angella Amuro, chief operations officer)

The Great Energy Challenge grant program, in collaboration with a distinguished group of scientists acting as the board of advisors, awards roughly a half-dozen grants per year. The goal of the grant program is to hasten the growth of promising, global energy solutions as a response to climate change, energy resource constraints and environmental limitations.

@NatGeoEnergy on Twitter

The Big Energy Question

What innovation should shape transportation in the future?

Vote and Comment »