It would probably be fitting to start this blog with a brief introduction of our project, for the benefit of anyone who is not familiar yet with the Buseesa Alternative Energy project being undertaken by EWB-GCP (the Greater Cincinnati Professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders). This project is a collaboration with the Covington, KY province of the Sisters of Notre Dame, who began building their first Buseesa boarding school in 1996. Known as the St. Julie Primary Boarding School, it is now accompanied by a Senior Secondary School, a Nursery school, and a subsistence farm that is the largest employer in the area. The location of Buseesa is nearly impossible to find from browsing Internet map sources, but Google Earth will quickly zoom to it if you paste these coordinates into the search bar: 0°46'43.00"N 31° 9'25.00"E .
The K-12 education provided at the SND schools has produced some of the top-ranked students in Uganda. Approximately 500 students and staff live at the site during the school year, and require a significant amount of nourishment from the cafeteria. And since the conventional cooking fuel is wood, the Sisters have to purchase about two truckloads of firewood a week to meet their kitchens' needs. Although firewood is currently the easiest source of fuel to obtain, the Sisters are aware of the impact this has on local forest resources, and have decided to work with our Cincinnati group to explore the possibility of replacing some of their fuel consumption with biogas.
Bio-what? Engineers are always interested in new challenges, even if the bulk of the work is just getting up to speed on alternative fuel technology that has been used around the world for decades. Biogas is the combustible product of anaerobic digestion, a natural decomposition process. Engineers (and just plain tinkerers) coax this process into a sustaining reaction inside an airtight tank, and regularly feed in a slurry of organic material mixed with water to produce a steady supply of methane mixed with carbon dioxide. This "biogas" can fuel a stove, light a lamp, power a refrigerator, or run a generator to produce electricity. Although high-tech commercial power plants run on biogas in Europe, our project will focus on the low-tech application of running a pipe from the top of the digester to the kitchen stoves.
The EWB-GCP efforts will also focus on trying to introduce Buseesa villagers to wood-burning cook stoves that burn more efficiently than the traditional open-fire-under-three-large-rock design. Again, much work has already been done in this area by others over the years, and various NGO's have been successful with tested designs like the "Rocket Stove". Our group will assess the best way to make these stoves affordable for villagers that subsist on less than $1 a day.
There will be 6 members traveling on this initial Assessment trip. We will fly into Entebbe on June 21, stay the night, and drive for about 6 hours in a Land Rover west towards Lake Albert. During the course of the week, we look forward to meeting the Sisters and students at the school, the villagers of Buseesa, and the staff of the local microfinance group BCDC. We plan to tour at least one operating digester at a different school and assess the feasibility of implementing a biogas system at the SND schools. We will also meet with a local contractor that has built several biogas digesters in Uganda and discuss their proposed design. Evidently the Sisters are eager to get the project started, and already have the funding available, so it will be exciting to see some results of our work soon!