Oct 2, 2006
Fuel from the Fields: MIT Charcoal Project
Posted in: MIT Facts
From the article "Engineering changes for the better in Haiti: Local activist joins up with MIT instructor"
By Ron Fletcher
The Boston Globe
June 5, 2005
Smith's ''genius" for designing simple and affordable solutions to the fundamental, seemingly intractable problems that plague impoverished regions earned her a place among the 2004 MacArthur fellows.
''Usually a degree in engineering means you'll eventually be working on cars or bombs," said Smith. ''I don't drive a car, and I don't kill people. The MIT mission statement talks about serving humanity. My students care about that. Gerthy cares about that. I care about that."
I blogged in a previous entry about my taking Development Lab (D-Lab) with Amy Smith, and here's just one example of a) how hands on the class is, and b) how it focuses on using technology to solve problems in developing nations.
We're going to take these corn cobs and corn husks
and this briquette press
to make charcoal
Read on, grasshopper....
What is charcoal?
Charcoal is the product of incomplete combustion of organic matter. This occurs when the organic matter is heated in a low-oxygen environment, which causes the organic matter to be carbonized instead of burning away.
This piece of wood is a place-holder in the center of the barrel; eventually, we will pull it out and have a nice column of space for the fire.
Cassava root (manoika) is a locally-available material (meaning locally in Petite Anise, Haiti) that will serve (in porridge form) as a binder for the charcoal. This process was designed to be as efficient as possible, so we will boil the cassava using the heat from the fire in the barrel. Peel it,
Prop the barrel up on bricks
and light the bagasse
The metal rod here is holding up the pot of boiling cassava
Use sand to seal the edges
and let it carbonize for a while. Fast forward to the next step:
Put the carbonized material in a plastic bag,
add the binder, and mix.
Put the resulting material in the charcoal brick press,
and voila. Leave these bricks out to dry (in sunny weather, it takes a couple of days) and then they're ready to use, at a fraction of the cost of purchased charcoal.
Good work, people.