Providing Clean Fuel for the Developing World: Technology Is Not Enough (2019-2020)

Applications for this project team are open and will be reviewed on a rolling basis. The deadline to apply is March 8 at 5:00 p.m.

Background

The indoor air pollution from burning solid fuels causes approximately four million premature deaths annually, making it the leading cause of human death after high blood pressure and tobacco smoking. Cleaner fuel sources can improve health while preserving forests, improving local air quality and mitigating impacts on climate change.

Unfortunately, the adoption of electric and natural gas stoves has proven challenging due to issues related to stove and fuel cost, the lack of a robust supply chain, existing cultural practices, development of a geographically and culturally appropriate marketing and promotion plan as well as gaining the trust and credibility of local leaders and institutions.

The increased penetration of solar power into the developing world is providing people with carbon-free electricity to use pollution-free electric stoves, the most preferred alternative stove technology. However, without a reliable electricity source or an expensive battery to store solar power, households must still rely on traditional solid fuel stoves for cooking and heating at night. In addition, many simple solar home systems do not provide enough power to run an electric stove.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will introduce students to the challenges involved in developing, translating and promoting new technologies to address global problems, and will thereby involve aspects of basic science, engineering, economics, sociology and psychology. The team will develop an alkaline water electrolyzer and hydrogen storage system that can provide fuel for cooking and heating at a lower cost than using electricity from an electrochemical battery (e.g., lithium ion or lead acid) and eliminates the need for a supply chain.

In addition to giving students the opportunity to develop a new technology, an equally important goal of the project is to instill in students from STEM disciplines the understanding that technology alone is rarely sufficient to address global problems. Thus, team members will write a literature review on the various studies and programs that have been undertaken to introduce new cookstove technology, in order to gain an understanding of the challenges and lessons learned. If the technology development stage of this project is successful, team members will use these lessons to design and run a field study of their technology in subsequent project years.

Anticipated Outputs

Safe and economical system for producing, storing and burning hydrogen; manuscript for publication; press release; literature review of cookstove interventions for publication; dataset for future analysis

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will consist of 4-6 undergraduates and 2 graduate students.

Students will likely be from Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Civil and Environmental engineering, and will have skills in building and testing hardware projects. Students must also be strong self-motivators and problem-solvers with an ability to work independently. We are also looking for students with excellent writing ability.

Students will break into two subgroups, one focused on electrolyzer development under the direction of Benjamin Wiley and Feichen Yang, and one focused on hydrogen storage and combustion under the direction of Nico Hotz and August Frechette. Subgroups will work either in the offices of the faculty leaders, in faculty member’s labs or in co-working spaces such as the Co-lab and the Foundry, depending on the stage of the project and the type of feedback needed.

Subgroups will meet with their graduate student project manager several times per week, and with their faculty advisors on a weekly basis. Subgroups will initially join together to meet on a monthly basis, moving to a biweekly or weekly basis during the integration of the hydrogen generation, storage and combustion components.

Students will dedicate a portion of their time each week to writing the review paper. They will first compile the literature on the topic and then complete an outline within the first month of the project for review by the faculty participants. Team members will then divide responsibility for the rest of the paper.

Students on the team will have the opportunity to apply and integrate skills learned from classes in fluid mechanics, mechanical design, heat transfer, thermodynamics and control systems. Additionally, STEM students will be exposed to the various social, institutional, economic and institutional issues one can face when trying to encourage the adoption of a new technology. Team members will also get the opportunity to contribute to the scientific literature through a publication on the hydrogen production and storage system, as well as a review article.

This project will include a mandatory summer research component in Summer 2019. Students will be expected to work at least 13 weeks over the summer (between May 13 and August 9, 2019) for 40 hours per week. We will only accept students who can participate in this summer component. Funding will be provided to cover student stipends over the summer.

Timing

Summer 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Summer 2019: Develop subgroup project plans; develop individual objectives and key results (OKRs); purchase supplies and test first prototype; evaluate team progress and modify project plan
  • Fall 2019: Evaluate first quarter OKRs; one-on-one evaluation meetings; complete draft of review article; continue prototype development and testing
  • Spring 2020: Evaluate second quarter OKRs; one-on-one evaluation meetings; finish prototype; write research publication; individual evaluations

Crediting

Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

To Apply

Students can apply using our online application. Applications are due by March 8 at 5:00 p.m.

 

Image: Fogarty NIH 50th symposium cookstoves, by Andrew Propp for Fogarty International Center/NIH, public domain

Fogarty NIH 50th symposium cookstoves.

Team Leaders

  • August Frechette, Pratt School of Engineering - Mechanical Engineering-Ph.D. Student
  • Nico Hotz, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science
  • Benjamin Wiley, Arts & Sciences-Chemistry
  • Feichen Yang, Trinity - Chemistry-Ph.D. Student

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Marc Jeuland, Sanford School of Public Policy