Students design turbine for use in African town

The Dartmouth

January 17, 2013

By Laura Weiss

Using only local supplies like aluminum, bricks, fuel, sand and wood, Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering plans to build a hydropower turbine in the Rwandan town of Musange this summer.

The group’s hydropower team has been building water turbines — systems of small aluminum buckets that are forced into motion by a stream of water to generate power — in Rwanda since 2008. Since the start of the project, the group has traveled to the country three times.

The current turbine is more advanced than the original, which was built on-site in 2008. The updated version features lighter two-compartment buckets that can increase the amount of energy generated by the system. The design of the turbine’s fuel and furnace systems are optimized so that they can be made on-site with local materials.

During the team’s previous trip to Rwanda last year, the members chose to import a pre-built turbine instead of building one on-site because they wanted to focus on other aspects of the project during the trip.

“Before, we professionally had this done, and we weren’t part of the process much,” project leader Wouter Zwart ’14 said. “Now, we’ve made it more hands-on, where we can go to Rwanda or anywhere in the world, and we can build this. We don’t have to have a professional, Western, expensive model. We can do it local, which is pretty cool.”

This year marks DHE’s first concerted effort to make the turbine work as effectively and efficiently as possible before arriving in Rwanda, Zwart said. The project aims to maximize the quality of the turbine with the limited tools available at the build site. ...

... This year, the group has increased the emphasis on hands-on work. The hydropower engineering team does at least one project each week where they work with the materials — melting down aluminum or casting a bucket, Polton-Simon said.

The focus on engaging in active work has attracted more freshmen to the hydropower project this year.

“What has really kept me so involved and loving [hydropower engineering] is that there’s so much hands-on work involved and we’re seeing progress,” team member Shinri Kamei ’16 said.

Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering
The 2012 DHE crew hard at work in Rwanda with Merritt Jenkins '10 drilling a channel for drainage. Photo by Kurt Kostyu '12

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