In March 2017, team members from MEDA’s EMERTA (Ethiopians Motivating Enterprises to Rise in Trade and Agri-business) project visited Bahir Dar Energy Centre at Bahir Dar Polytechnic University in Ethiopia. The two-year old centre is equipped with technology for teaching graduate students about solar, wind, and biomass energy production.
The facility already has some impressive projects in the works, including one to build wind turbines to provide power to the communities that live on 22 islands in Lake Tana. The visit to the Energy Centre was incredibly insightful and the team saw and heard firsthand about various clean energy-related initiatives the centre is involved in:
On the commercial side, the Energy Centre is conducting research on parboilers that are fueled by rice husks. Parboilers steam rice grains in their husks, strengthening the grain, which minimizes breakage, and allowing some of the nutrition to pass from the bran to the grain. While the potential efficiency, effectiveness and cost of such technology compared to traditional electric-element parboilers have yet to be determined, it is nonetheless an opportunity to explore.
The Energy Centre has developed a large biomass converter that uses 'toilet waste’ from the residences and converts it into fuel that is used to cook 300 injira per day at the cafeteria. The waste-product filters into the school's vegetable garden to fertilize the cabbages, tomatoes, and onions, and is just as 'safe' as any other compost.
Of particular interest to the EMERTA team was a product related to a past graduate student’s dissertation work: He had built a gasifier cook stove that “burns” rice husks (or coffee husks or jatropha seeds) in one chamber for energy.
The gas emitted from the burning husks (the husks would normally just be discarded as waste) is then ignited in another chamber, providing a more even and intense source of heat.
The process, more complicated than it sounds, results in nearly zero emissions because the gas created from the burning of the husks is burned off itself as well. The graduate student who developed the prototype has successfully started a manufacturing facility for his product in town and requires further market research to patent a product that is marketable in the Bahir Dar area and potentially beyond.
One of EMERTA's objectives is to test and introduce time-saving technologies for women, both on and off the farm. This is an interesting potential opportunity to explore for women rice farmers, who could request that the husks be returned to them after processing their rice.
This innovative work already underway showcases the Centre’s immense potential to develop and use clean sources of energy and contribute to solving waste management problems.