277608 An Innovative Multidisciplinary Sustainable Student Design Project to Develop Integrated Biodiesel and Biochar Technology for Sub-Saharan Africa

Monday, October 29, 2012
Hall B (Convention Center )
Jeffrey Seay, Chemical and Materials Engineering, University of Kentucky

Developing countries in tropical regions are often rich in biological resources, such as biomass and oil seeds, however, extreme poverty, lack of an educated populace and an absence of a reliable manufacturing infrastructure mean that these resources go largely untapped. Although the vegetable oil needed to produce fuels like biodiesel is available in tropical regions in abundant supply, additional raw materials such as methanol or ethanol and a base catalyst such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide are also required. This presents a special challenge since these raw materials are typically unavailable to rural people in the tropics. Therefore the motivation for this project draws from the need to develop affordable technology for producing biodiesel as well as all the required raw materials using locally available feed stocks and construction materials.

This contribution will describe the organization and development of a multidisciplinary student design project involving the design, construction and implementation of a novel apparatus to produce biodiesel and biochar from locally available resources in sub-Saharan Africa. This project involved students from Chemical and Mechanical Engineering and included both Senior Capstone Design students as well as underclassmen. The project was implemented through the newly implemented Embedded Study Abroad Program model at the University of Kentucky. This program allows a travel component to be embedded into a traditional core class or elective. This is significantly different from the traditional study abroad model, which typically includes a semester of international travel. For this student design project, a traditional independent study elective was combined with the embedded study abroad model to create a unique design experience for the students.

This project was conceived through a partnership with an NGO called the African Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (ACREST), an NGO located in Bangang, Cameroon (www.acrest.org). ACREST operates a small technology center where they work to design and adapt renewable energy and sustainable technologies for the use of rural villagers in Cameroon and throughout West Africa. Recently ACREST has entered into partnerships with U.S. universities, whose students work to develop technologies as part of internships and capstone design projects. The primary objective of the project with the University of Kentucky, Paducah Campus is to develop technologies to allow rural villagers in Cameroon to manufacture biodiesel from locally available vegetable oils such as palm oil or jatropha oil, and biochar from field crop residues and waste biomass.

Seven students and their faculty advisor have recently traveled to Cameroon to implement this unique multidisciplinary project. This contribution will describe the organization of the project and the results achieved by the students in the field. In additional, student perspectives from the field will be included in the presentation.

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