By Gail LichtmanEngineers Without Borders - Technion
, Israel's first chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), is expanding its projects with Nepal. The group will now be conducting a one-month, intensive summer course on "Engineering for Developing Communities" in Nepal, in conjunction with Prof. Bim Prasad Shrestha of Katmandu University and the University of Colorado's Prof. Bernard Amadei, one of the founders of EWB and the man known as the father of engineering for developing communities.
The course, which will be held in the framework of Technion's newly established UNESCO Chair for Sustainable Engineering in Developing Communities, will bring 30 international students (10 of them from the Technion) together with 10 Nepalese students for lectures, laboratories, workshops and hands-on projects in Nepal.
"This is an international program with studies in English," explains Prof. Mark Talesnick, founder and head of EWB - Technion, which was established in 2008. "The program provides an opportunity for all the students to interact and have a real international engineering experience. It is also not just for engineering students. During the two previous summer programs, which were held at the Technion in Israel, we had architecture, physics, political science and even US military academy students take part and impart their different viewpoints. This year we have medical students enrolled in the course."
EWB is an international organization with more than 300 chapters around the world. Founded in 2001 by Prof. Bernard Amadei, it is dedicated to fostering sustainable energy projects in developing and disadvantaged communities around the world.
The Technion is Israel's premiere institute of engineering and science. Founded in 1912, it has led the way for industrial and infrastructure development in Israel, with Technion graduates the driving force propelling Israel into the forefront of the high tech revolution.
EWB - Technion's involvement with Nepal began in December 2008 with a fact-finding trip to the country to observe the needs of villagers in Namsaling in Ilam province. This was followed up by a trip led by Talesnick and the beginning of a project to install biogas reactor systems, providing sustainable energy, in rural Nepal. More than 62 units have been built and installed over the past four years, at a cost of less than $32,000.
"About 90% of rural Nepalese cook and heat by burning wood," notes Talesnick. "This entails cutting down trees as there is no other source of energy in these areas. Cutting down trees has a negative effect on the environment. Plus women and children spend an average of four hours a day gathering the wood. The smoke generated by cooking over an open fire in a closed environment results in women suffering from respiratory diseases. In addition, human and animal waste goes into the local rivers, creating an unhealthy water supply. In choosing our project, we decided to build something positive that would help deal not just with the problem of wood burning but a whole cycle of problems."
Biogas can be produced from almost any organic material put in an anaerobic (oxygenless) environment. The result is methane which can be used for cooking, lighting, heating and powering generators.
The idea of biogas reactors is not new to Namsaling. However, the traditional method of constructing the structures to make the gas is very time-consuming and labor intensive. It involves filling a pre-constructed pit with earth, shaping a dome and then covering the surface with concrete. After the concrete cast is completed, the earth under the dome is removed.
The EWB - Technion team improved on the traditional design. They created a lightweight, modular and reusable framework for constructing the dome. Twelve ”sushi mats made of bamboo sections are rolled on to a steel frame that looks like an igloo. This provides a template on which the concrete is cast. After four days, the frame is dismantled, the “sushi’ mats rolled up and can be used to build the next biogas reactor.
"We are now evaluating and monitoring the different effects of biogas on the village. Our work shows that villagers are using 12 tons less wood per family or 36 kg less wood daily per family. This is good for the environment. Plus the biogas reactors have impacted on better indoor air quality and cleaner water since waste is now a valuable commodity used for fuel. The biogas units also produce fertilizer. We want to study the impact on women's health, water quality, education and village economy. The project is having far greater social impact than just sustainable energy," Talesnick concludes.