Students from the CU-Boulder chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) are working with the college’s Engineering Entrepreneurship Program (E-ship) to launch a sustainable micro-enterprise in Rwanda that will address a number of environmental, health, and social problems.
The venture is focused on replacing large indoor campfires used for cooking in schools, hospitals, and orphanages, with safer, less expensive “rocket” stoves.
Rocket stoves are simple, highly efficient stoves that burn small- diameter fuel and direct the heat onto a small cooking area. The stoves achieve almost complete combustion and thus create virtually no smoke, while potentially saving schools and other institutions hundreds of dollars a year spent for the purchase of wood. Perhaps best of all, the stoves can be built using locally available labor and materials, such as pumice stone.
“There is always a sustainability issue with development projects,” says Christina Barstow, a CU graduate student in civil engineering who has been working on EWB projects in Rwanda for the last three to four years. “The whole idea is that we want to take this to the next level, beyond monitoring and maintaining the technologies we have introduced, to starting a business that we can turn over to the people who live there.”
Barstow is working with engineering undergraduate Eric Millinger and graduate students Boston Nyer and Lila Saade on the venture. The team already has received $31,000 from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, and the students plan to compete in CU-Boulder’s New Venture Challenge in March for possible additional funding.
Seth Murray, a CU engineering graduate who founded and ran two successful companies before joining the E-ship faculty, is advising the team and will help with further business development and grant writing to help fund biomass and paper fuel briquette alternatives to wood.
The students have conducted extensive research for the project, including field-testing numerous stove designs, working with partners in Rwanda to build some prototype stoves, and installing 22 stoves in a Mugonero orphanage that is home to 110 children.
Barstow says the initial installations are saving the orphanage 75 percent on its wood costs, which means the stoves will pay for themselves in about six months.