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!

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