The Columbia University chapter of Engineers Without Borders aims to address the problems facing people both locally and overseas by leveraging the skills, talents, and passions of Columbia University students and the sponsorships formed with our organization. Our members come from many different arts, sciences, and engineering backgrounds, but share the desire to do meaningful work and make a difference.
The chapter currently consists of three programs in Ghana, Morocco, and Uganda. The Ghana program, which started in 2004, used to work in the semi-urban town of Sakyikrom but now focuses on water management in the farming community of Obodan. The Morocco program, which began in 2011, finished building a bridge in the rural community of Ait Bayoud in June 2013 and is now planning a future water project in the nearby community of Izgouaren. In 2008, the Uganda program was established to install Multi-Function Platform engines in the Soroti region, and has also implemented a now-complete rainwater harvesting system. Each project draws from the skills of its members to provide technical solutions to worldwide problems.
Our project team has found a new focus for the Uganda program: a renewable energy micro-grid in the rural community of Otubet, Uganda. This project began after a meeting with Professor Vijay Modi of the Sustainable Engineering Lab at Columbia’s Earth Institute. In his own research on sustainable energy, Professor Modi utilizes a software and hardware solution to the problem of distributing affordable electricity to people in agricultural communities. The model will give people a more economic solution than expensive monthly payments that may not account for variation in usage.
Otubet was selected after their incredible results with CU-EWB’s previous project installing agricultural processors. The community of Otubet is highly organized and motivated for success, having previously leveraged community resources for projects with CU-EWB, other NGOs, and community-based organizations. Both the team and the community members are excited to continue building our relationship and begin a very useful project implementation.
Currently, the community has no access to an electrical grid in private or public spaces. Our goal is to electrify schools, health centers, and businesses in Otubet. Through renewable solar energy, these entities will be able to provide higher quality, expanded services - including healthcare, education, and more - at lower costs.
Multi-Function Energy Platforms are stationary diesel engines that have been shown to be an effective piece of development infrastructure, with the ability to provide important mechanization for agricultural processing and electricity generation.
With our first site assessment trip in the summer of 2008 and our most recent implementation in the summer of 2013, the MFP Pilot Program has steadily grown from two MFP sites to eight as a tight partnership between Pilgrim, a Ugandan NGO, and each MFP co-op. Provided with technical and safety training and given an investment loan, communities have been able to use the abilities of the MFP to turn a profit and reinvest in their community, entrepreneurship, and health and education.
In the summers of 2009 and 2010, a team from our program conducted a specific assessment trips to analyze the problem and take measurements of source reliability, water pricing, water quality, among other important factors to consider.
In early 2011 the design for the entire rainwater-harvesting system, including the tank sizing, gutters, first-flush, and water treatment was completed and in June 2011, the team successfully implemented the three rainwater-harvesting systems. Quantitative and qualitative ssessments over the winter trip showed that the system had been successful in significantly reducing the city water consumption of the school and had even been able to supply water by itself for a whole week when a drought cut out the city water supply.
The last step for the project was to ensure the quality and potability of the water. Testing was done over the course of the winter trip 2011 to verify this and found that the water provided by the system was significantly cleaner and more potable than the city water of the local town of Soroti. Ever since, the program has continued to monitor the quality of the water and the reliability of the rainwater harvesting system.