Monday, July 4, 2011

Wrappin' up

The project has officially come to a close, and the team was sad to say our goodbyes to the warm-hearted community of Patriensa. Luckily, my schedule was flexible enough to allow me to push back my departure date and continue my involvement with Patriensa and the project for a few more days, as well as help a social work student, Tim from the PUC Sachet Team, conduct valuable research in assessing the community’s needs through dialogue with leadership and community members. I look forward to learning more about the social work world and how engineering fits within the community development framework.

As far as the progress of the PUC briquette team before the official ending date, we were able to complete all of the objectives that we set your to accomplish, and feel that the contribution that our team made to the two-year briquette project was immense.  Along with meeting our goals, we were able to create a surplus of preliminary briquettes for testing. Around fifty or so were sent back to Texas for testing in the controlled environment of the lab. About another 150 were left here in Patriensa. Our hope, if approved by the management team back in Texas, is to conduct burn demonstrations here in Patriensa and gain feedback from community members on burn characteristics during my extended stay.

I would like to thank the whole team, not just those lucky enough to travel, for the hard work and dedication to the project. Also, our project advisors Marty Rumbaugh, Dr. Kristin Wood, and Dr. Christina White were invaluable assets during our work, offering patient guidance and knowledgeable advice throughout our time here. And of course our success greatly depended on the involvement and support of our friends and acquaintances here in Patreinsa and Kumasi, and we are all fortunate to have the pleasure of knowing such generous and kind people. Patriensa will be greatly missed, but perhaps a team member or two could pay a return visit sometime….

Until updates of the continued work come in, here are a few photos of the work we did and the friends we met:

Until next time,

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's been too long!

Sorry for the delay. Who would have thought? Reliable internet is hard to find in rural Ghana!

There have been a slew of updates since our last post. After the broken press, we arrived the next morning to find that the manager of the saw mill donated new lumber to the project. Due to his generosity, we were able to fix the press in no time. Following the repair, we made about 20 different mixtures of briquettes, conducted burn tests, and produced more of the briquettes that burned well. Production with the press is in full swing, and we are looking forward to more samples for testing.

We have made some great progress on the community involvement front. After working during the morning producing briquettes, we headed home for lunch. Upon arriving back at the press, two of the sawmill workers were eager to show us the briquettes that they had developed.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the Kwame Nukramah University of Science and Technology. There we met with three very helpful academics, all with experience in briquetting biomass and one who specializes in rural community enterprise. We learned a lot from our meetings and are excited about future collaboration on this project and others.

Friday is our last day in Patriensa, and nobody is looking forward to leaving. We have accomplished much in our short time, and are feverishly working now to make the most of our remaining time. We will update you after project completion, goodbye for now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Life has its ups and downs

So we’ve got good news. The press is built! Unfortunately, we also have some bad news. The press is broke.
The saw mill that we are stationed has been a great work sight. We have shade, solid ground to work on, and the most friendly and curious workers that anyone can ask for. The kindness that Ghanaians exude has been nearly overwhelming. The workers at the mill, having only casually met us during our work, insist on helping us carry our tools and supplies across the lumber yard every morning and afternoon. The owner offered, without our asking, to lock the tools in his office nightly.
The press construction went slower than expected. Unfortunately the electric tools that we brought don’t like 50 Htz electricity available in Ghana. Therefore, some manual labor was in order. It took longer than hoped to source a hand drill and wood saw, but we finally succeeded. When the tools were available, press construction moved along as planned. We finally completed the press yesterday. It was looking good, so we decided to press a few briquettes before dusk. During the second compaction of the first batch of briquettes, we heard a loud crack. Immediately, we noticed the cracked main beam that compresses the briquettes. As bad as it looked, we decided to continue to carefully work until it reached complete failure, thinking that a patch would be impractical, so complete replacement was inevitable at some point. The third and final compaction was the last it could take. The two hardwood 2x6’s broke with quite a startle. It appears that the wood that was used to create the main beam was old and rotted, with evidence of mold growing along the fracture line. We hung our heads and called it a day, planning on purchasing new wood first thing in the morning. On the way out, we mentioned the problem to the saw mill proprietor. For the loss, he agreed to purchase outright the replacement boards for the beam. On the bright side, he happened to be cutting 4x6’s for a client, a perfect replacement to our joined 2x6 set up. We agreed to the deal and will start work tomorrow morning.
Another point of mention is that we designed and built the drying rack. It is an A-frame structure supporting bamboo pieces acting as skewers for the donut-shaped briquettes. We have had a lot of luck finding wild bamboo locally, and are anxious to get it working. That’s all for now, updates to follow.


Day of rest

Sunday was used as a recoup and relaxation day. We all attended Sunday church service at Pastor Kofi’s Presbyterian Church in the center of Patriensa. It was a welcome rest day and culturally awakening. After church service, several of us played soccer with the local children who were out of school. Overall Sunday was well received by the teams and left us ready to work hard on Monday.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hard at Work

Double post today! Our work these past few days has kept us too busy to make it to the local internet spot but we are making it up now. We've had a lot of progress. After a day in Kumasi gathering materials and meeting with some local contacts, we made it back out to Patriensa in time to have a quick team meeting before crashing in bed. Rising at sunset has been a hard transition! Today was incredibly productive. We started the day with a meeting with the local sawmill owner, who granted us permission to use the facility to work. We set to work early, where we were joined by several interested men that were on the grounds. After some curious watching from afar, we shook some hands and had some very helpful volunteers swinging hammers with us. It has been incredible how many people have been willing to lend a complete stranger a hand, no matter how strange the task. This continues to remind us how friendly and open Ghana is, and for that we are very thankful. The work continues tomorrow, with lent community tools and welcoming greetings. Updates in a few days!

Arrival in Patriensa!

After an early start this morning, the team headed to the village Patriensa from Accra. Upon arrival, we were greeted at the guest housing accommodations by Pastor Kofi, community leader and pastor of the local church, along with the kontihene, the right-hand man to the Chief. Our first view of the village started with a tour of the future site of Patriensa Pure, PUC Ghana Sachet team future facility for the production of sachet water and the repurposing of sachet bags. We also toured both sawmills in town, where we were pleasantly surprised with quantity and quality of sawdust and tools available.

The most interesting part of the day came upon meeting the Chief of the Patriensa area. At the chief’s palace, we were greeted by an assortment of sub-chiefs in colorful Ghanaian clothing. We were very warmly welcomed, and sat in on the traditional council meeting. Fruitlessly, we tried to catch bits and pieces of the local dialect, but to no avail. Pastor Kofi, fortunately, was there to translate for the team. After formally presenting our project to the Chief through Pastor Kofi and the Linguist, we said our goodbyes to the incredibly friendly Chief, and made our way back home. Full of freshly cooked rice and chicken, we began our night’s group meeting. Overall, a very promising day for the success of the project and a renewed zeal to begin work early in the moring.

-Sam and Kykta
The PUC team in the cheif's court.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Welcome to Accra

All of the team members arrived in Ghana yesterday with no issues. The flights were long and there wasn’t much sleep had, but fortunately we had a comfortable hotel room waiting. Today we toured Accra with our very kind and helpful guide Kwame. We toured the Kwame Nkrumah museum, where the following picture was taken, and visited the sprawling market at the National Cultural Center. After lunch on the beach we visited Trashy Bags with the PUC Ghana Sachet team. We set off early tomorrow morning for Patriensa, ready to make some progress!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ready to go!

We've been working hard preparing for our departure tomorrow. Sam, Alex Kykta and I will be travelling with the Ghana Sachet team, while Marc and Simon will provide support from home base. We have some very knowledgeable technical advisors travelling with us and are anxious to finally meet all of our local Ghanaian partners. Everything is packed and ready to go. On the ground in Ghana in two days and can't wait!

-Alex Breckel

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Redesign in Progress

The SLAB meeting went really well! We receive some very positive feedback and some great suggestions for our future plans. Furthermore, our project has been officially approved by UT's International Office. So now we're rolling out travel plans as we work on our project.

Concerning our project, Alex B. and Sam are working on testing briquettes and analyzing their burn characteristics, while Alex K., Simon and Marc are beginning to work on the press redesign. We are very happy with the press we've built, but we want to make sure only the best design will be implemented in Ghana!

Here's a video showing how our press churns out briquettes:

We also plan on making numerous drafts using SolidWorks CAD software and printing out more 3D models before we built our improvements. Here's an example:

Using SolidWorks, we can visualize any changes we make, along with motional and stress analyses. We're very excited to see what we come up with, and we'll have more updates later.

Monday, April 25, 2011

More Briquettes, More Experience

Today is our Service Learning Advisory Board presentation regarding our final approval for travel.  If all goes as planned, we will be green-lighted for travel by the day's end!

We've been pumping out a lot of briquettes lately.  We've learned a great deal about the production process, and have made several refinements to our equipment.  A baseline production rate was established at about one briquette per minute, and after a few process refinements, we were able to increase this rate by ten percent after working on it for only one day!  We look forward to continuous process improvement and refining our equipment for improved briquette production.
For a future outlook, we are looking towards carbonizing the briquettes. There is one prototype in the picture above, though many more will need to be produced for any kind of relevant results.  Shatter tests have been performed on some controlled parameter briquettes, and we are sorting through the data now.  Soon we will be conducting some combustion analysis tests, monitoring burn time and peak heat output.  More updates to follow soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Press built, molds built, briquettes!

The press has been refined a bit, several mold designs built, and a few preliminary briquettes have been pressed.  Overall, it's been a busy and successful week.  Below you can see two molds and accompanying plungers.  

Here are some briquettes laid out to dry.  We experimented with a few parameters just to get to a reasonable size, shape, and consistency.  We have a more rigorous experimental procedure developed, but were too excited to have the molds done not to produce a few.

While we were on a roll, we couldn't resist burning some.  Two days in the sun left these briquettes were plenty dry to burn.  The lit easily with newspaper and burned really well.  The densest ones flamed for a bit, then glowed red-hot for a while, very similar to charcoal.  Promising results!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Briquette Press Built

The press is built!  Sam and I (Breckel) did the final assembly today, and it looks great!  Just a little bit of final polishing up to do and we can start producing briquettes with it.  
And it only took one extra trip to the hardware store. Lots of lessons learned during the prototyping, it's been a great experience.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Member of Our Team

Simon Arends, a former member of the Peru Kitchen Project and a junior mechanical engineer, will now be joining the PUC Ghana Briquette Team. Due to major communication problems between the Peru team and Santa Cruz, Peru, the project had to be discontinued and their members have decided to join other PUC teams. We look forward to working with Simon and are excited to what he will bring to the team!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rapid Prototype of the Press!

We have a working model of the press! Much thanks to team member Marc Nestenius for drafting the prototype in SolidWorks, and to Prof. Billy H. Wood for allowing us to use the the Engineering and Computer Graphics 3-D printer to create a rapid-prototype plastic model of the press.

The picture (below) shows our model, with pencil to scale. The lever arm on the right side of the press moves up and down, which in turn moves the horizontal beam downward to press the briquettes, which will be plunged inside a 3" PVC pipe in the full-scale press. The model even has the full range of motion that our full-scale design will have (see video).

With this proof-of-concept design under our belt, we will be building the first full-scale press in the upcoming days after Spring Break. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Summary of Our Exciting Project

Howdy, y’all!

Since this is our first post, we might as well tell you about our work and ourselves. We are engineering students at the University of Texas at Austin engaged in a course called Projects for Underserved Communities. This is not your typical engineering course that makes you derive formulas invented by geniuses who wore wigs. It is not one that allows you to be successful by hiding in a dark corner in the library.

Instead, PUC is a year-long class that puts members in groups that will solve pressing problems in underprivileged areas of the globe. Professionalism, drive and ingenuity are required of all members because there is no amount of cramming that will save your project if you slack off. We work closely with real people who are counting on us to select, design and implement our solutions to solve global issues.  

The concept is similar that of Engineers Without Borders, and we are led by outstanding faculty. From the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT, Janet Ellzey, Ph.D., P.E., and James O’Connor, Ph.D., P.E., contribute their technical and managerial expertise, while Dorie Gilbert, Ph.D., offers the engineering students much needed guidance on societal dynamics from the School of Social Work.

The Ghana Briquette team is working with the town of Patriensa, Ghana, a small village of 5,000 residents in the center of the country. The village suffers from high unemployment and illiteracy rates, but has able leaders and an entrepreneurial spirit. That spirit has fostered microenterprises, such as a bakery and a bicycle-to-tricycle conversion business, along with the implementation of a communications center that houses computers – in the middle of rural Ghana!

Our goal is to lay the foundation for an additional enterprise – one that converts biomass waste into salable cooking fuel. Lumber is one of Ghana’s main industries, and 75% of the country’s forests have subsequently been removed. Compounding the problem, villagers scavenge the brush for wood to use as fuel. Therefore, the village of Patriensa has asked PUC to make use of their local sawmill’s waste sawdust. It is our task to design a press and procedure that will convert this waste sawdust (that would be otherwise discarded in local waterways) into burnable briquettes. Our ultimate goal is to turn this concept into a business that will employ villagers and contribute to Patriensa’s exciting microenterprise portfolio!

PUC already has a strong connection to Patriensa, as last year’s team built a well for their school. Even more reassuring, Dr. Gilbert has been working with Patriensa for over a decade and its chief anointed her their Queen Mother of Development. The team is very excited to be supported by Afren and its COO, Shahid Ullah.

In addition, the Home Depot in Sunset Valley and its manager, Linden Wilson, have decided to donate materials for our press design.

We are very thankful for the support we have received so far and plan to provide updates on our designs, pictures and information on our partners in the coming weeks. We look forward to continuing our work, and we appreciate your interest!