MessageToEagle.com - A team of MIT students and alumni come with a great contribution to people of Africa!
Doctors, nurses and other health workers working in some isolated clinics in African countries certainly welcome
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's contribution.
The electricity needed to power lights and medical devices is generated by expensive imported diesel fuel;
the water supply can be so cold in winter that health workers can’t even wash their hands properly.
A startup company established by a team of MIT students and alumni aims to change that.
The patented technology,
the team developed uses a mirrored parabolic trough to capture sunlight, heating fluid in a pipe along
the mirror’s centerline.
This fluid then powers a sort of air conditioner in reverse: Instead of using electricity to pump out cold
air on one side and hot air on the other, it uses the hot fluid and cold air to generate electricity.
At the same time, the hot fluid can be used to provide heat and hot water — or, by adding a separate chiller
stage, to produce cooling as well.
A prototype of the system has already been installed at a small clinic in the southern African nation of Lesotho.
Next year, the MIT team plans to have five fully operational systems installed in isolated clinics and
schools there for field-testing.
A scroll expander used to convert the heat to power — is the key element of the system and it was
described in a paper to be published in the ASME Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines and Power.
Matthew Orosz and Amy Mueller work with locals in Lesotho to implement their solar ORC system. Photo Credits: STG International
Matthew Orosz MEng, recently named
a finalist for the Echoing Green Fellowship, and the lead author of the paper, says the idea for the project
began years ago, when he spent two years working in a village in Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer — with no access
to electricity or hot water.
There are some 30,000 clinics and 60,000 schools around the world that similarly lack access to electricity
but have sufficient sunshine to meet their power needs, Orosz says; he returned to MIT determined to do
something about that.
According to Matthew Orosz, there are only two viable options to provide electricity for such places: a solar photovoltaic
(PV) array or a diesel generator. Both are somewhat less expensive to install than his company’s solar
trough system, but when the costs of replacement parts and fuel are factored in, he estimates the solar trough
system will be substantially cheaper over its lifetime.
Working with fellow student Amy Mueller ’02, MEng ’03, PhD ’12, their thesis advisor Harold Hemond, the
William E. Leonhard Professor of Engineering at MIT, and others, Orosz set up a nonprofit company called Solar
Turbine Group (now known as STG International to develop
the solar technology that he envisioned as a practical alternative for these off-the-grid facilities.
Matthew Orosz and Amy Mueller working in Lesotho. Photo Credits: STG International
People think of Africa as uniformly hot, Orosz says, but in fact Lesotho is temperate and has cold winters
with occasional snowfall — making heat and hot water a significant bonus. “We’ve had nurses tell us they avoid
washing their hands in the winter, because the water is so cold,” he says.
“So hot water is very welcome.”
The pilot system, which Orosz and his colleagues started to assemble at Lesotho’s Matjotjo Village Health
Clinic in 2008, provided the initial proof of principle, though it took years to get all the parts working
properly in that remote location. While they were able to demonstrate the successful operation of their
heat-powered generator — a system called an organic Rankine cycle (ORC) engine — the system required a skilled
operator to adjust the temperatures, pressures and voltages as conditions changed.
Since then, the STG team has developed a sophisticated computerized control system, allowing the system to run
virtually hands-free. Once that system is installed, the only routine maintenance required is washing the
huge mirrors every six months or so.
Right now the STG team, which also includes Elizabeth Wayman ’04, MSc ’06 and Brian Urban SM ’07, is working
on a test installation at Eckerd College in Florida to test the new control system.
The clinic in Lesotho, now closed for renovations, is expected to reopen early next year, when the team plans
to return to the site and begin full-time operations with the newly automated setup. Over the course of the year,
they plan to install four more systems at other schools and clinics in that country, with help from Lesotho’s
ministries of health and education and three local engineers who are members of the STG team.
The team hopes to create a local source of jobs and revenues; the systems will be built, owned and operated
by local companies set up for that purpose, Orosz says.
“There are a number of exciting solar thermal technology options, including but not limited to that being tested by STG International.
All hold promise.” He adds that “the challenge is not in the basic hardware, but in sustainable, viable field
operation” — the area that STG is focusing on for its tests next year. “That is an excellent first step,”
he says, “but the jury is out until these facilities function in the field, operated by the local communities,”
according to Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California at Berkeley and co-director of the
Berkeley Institute of the Environment, who is not involved in this project.
Over the years, STG’s project has won numerous awards and grants to help develop the technology, the
financing systems and the supply chains using local materials and labor.
MessageToEagle.com based on information provided by MIT, STG International
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