As developing countries grow and expand, low-cost, clean energy technologies in these countries are vital in increasing quality of life and to improve public health. Over 1 billion people suffer from adverse health effects from burning resource-intense energy sources for lighting and cooking. The UC Davis Program for International Energy Technologies addresses energy security, environmental degradation, and public health concerns through sustainable engineering efforts.
D-Lab offers a two-quarter course bringing students from different academic backgrounds together to work towards a solution in four different areas:
- Off-grid lighting and micro-power
- Agriculture (pumping, irrigation, post-harvest0
- Renewable energy
- Sustainability and energy efficiency
Students gain a greater understanding of the global challenges that will need to be solved.
To see a complete list of all past projects, please visit our library.
D-Lab II projects of Spring 2015:
PET Bottle Strip Cutter (Brazil)
In an attempt to address a growing trash problem in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the D-lab team worked to design and prototype a PET bottle strip cutter which is able to strip plastic bottles of various sizes. The string can then be woven to make items such as chairs, green houses and fencing to not only generate income for people living in poverty but also reduce accumulation of trash.
Report: Bottle Cutter
Implementation of a Forage Chopper for Silage Production in Sabana Grande (Nicaragua)
After the team’s initial investigation into the client’s problem during D-Lab I, the team in D-Lab II designed a forage chopper that alleviates malnutrition of small farmers’ cattle. The chopper meets the client’s requirements for high quality, low cost, throughput, and manufacturability.
Report: D-Lab II Final Report
Emergency Transport (Madagascar)
Lalana, a non profit organization in Madgascar, reached out to D-Lab for assistance with an improved stretcher design. The D-Lab team focused on designing a stretcher that was easily maneuverable and featured robust wheels for less than ideal road conditions. The improved stretcher will be replacing thirty Swiss Army stretchers donated a few years prior.
Robust Gearbox for Underwater Dam-Free Hydrokinetic Turbine (Zambia)
This report addresses a client’s need for a more efficient dam-free turbine system that can be easily built by local fisherman and provide greater power output for refrigeration services. The design team was able to produce and develop an efficient gearbox system that could be made with local resources found in Kafue, Zambia.
Bike-source Cultivator (Zambia)
The D-Lab team designed a plow system from old bicycles for use in cultivating and weeding farmers’ fields in Zambia. These two activities are traditionally time-intensive with traditional hand tools. With the bicycle plow, the team hopes to make community members’ lives easier by reducing the amount of labor hours required for farming.
Report: Bikultivator Final Report
Pollen Dehydrator (Colombia)
Beekeepers in Colombia collect 30-40 kg of high value bee pollen per week, but have no means of economically and effectively preserving it. The D-Lab team solves this by designing a solar dryer that uses no electricity and prevents moisture recharge in Colombia’s humid environment.
D-Lab I projects of Winter 2015:
Silage Production to Alleviate Malnutrition in Cows (Nicaragua): In Sabana Grande, Nicargua, community members do not have access to a cheap, nutritious source silage for their cattle during the dry season. As a result of the lack of nutrition, cattle are unable to reproduce and stop producing milk. The D-Lab team attempts to address the problem with mechanical and community management strategies. Report: D-Lab I Final Report
Assessment of Potential Markets for Soil Moisture Sensor (Tanzania): This report summarizes the team’s finding on the potential market for soil moisture sensors and the technologies ability to improve the lives of farmers. The research seeks to answer three main questions: (1) Is there, and where is there, a need for soil moisture sensors in Tanzania?; (2) What are the desired design specification of a soil moisture sensor in Tanzania?; and (3) What is the commercial opportunity for this product?
Scalability and Economic Feasibility of Cool Storage Implementation (East Africa): There is need to better understand how to assess the profitability of implementing cool room storage systems that rely on CoolBot technology within the East Africa Region. In order to meet this need, a detailed yet flexible tool has been programmed using Microsoft Excel to output the net present value (NPV) of a given cold storage system over a ten- year lifespan. This report describes a proposed calculator that incorporates the costs and potential revenues associated with the use of a cool room including: the cost of powering the cool room, transportation associated with moving the produce, cost of building the cool room, and the revenue generated from selling the produce.
D-Lab II projects of Spring 2014:
Agricultural Mobile Irrigation System (Uganda): This report has been compiled with the intent of summarizing the progress made on the AMIS (Agricultural Mobile Irrigation System) and includes the problem scope and development, current design specifications and how they came about, the benchmarks for evaluation, and the results. The main objectives were to build and evaluate the performance of a complete AMIS system.
Cool Room Insulation (Kenya): Researchers at the University of Nairobi, in collaboration with the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Hort CRSP) at UC Davis have begun a feasibility study on using a low cost cooling system known as the CoolBot to reduce post- harvest loss at its most vulnerable stage, immediately after harvest. The proposed innovation seeks to address the challenges at the farmgate of the horticultural commodities value chain. However, the CoolBot technology is only part of the equation, the other issues being energy management, farming practices, and finally the insulation and structure of the building to hold the horticultural products. Our group looked at and analyzed various potential insulation solutions using agricultural waste. Based upon a D-Lab 1 report, talking with our mentor Jim Thompson, and time-constraints we honed in on one specific method of a mixture of Portland Cement with rice hulls. While other possible insulative methods were considered and will be discussed in this report, all of our testing and prototyping was limited to this method.
Solar Cooker (Chad):
Solar Cookers International and their business is helping the women in the Iridimi Refugee Camp in Chad find sustainable means to cook food for their families. Solar Cookers International is nongovernmental organization that spreads solar cooking awareness and skills worldwide, particularly in areas with plentiful sunshine and diminishing sources of cooking fuel. The women in Chad require a solar cooker because without a solar cooker, they must collect firewood to cook their food and this creates danger for women (having to leave camp to find cooking materials), a strain on nonrenewable material in an arid climate.
D-Lab I projects of Winter 2014:
Essential Oil Extraction Market and Technical Analysis (Nepal): The Biodiversity Education Land Trust (BELT) is a non-government organization (NGO) based in southeastern Nepal whose goals are to protect the ecosystem, teach biodiversity and create sustainable livelihoods. The target community has an opportunity to use their existing knowledge of local plants to create livelihoods that enhance rather than threaten biodiversity. BELT requested a feasibility study of essential oil production in the Yangshila community. This report focuses on the marketing analysis of essential oil production, which includes plant selection and examines extraction technology options. BELT would like information on major buyers, market profiles and quality standards for export of oils. A request was made to include a variety of plant types, including citrus, and ideally represent plants from the different climate zones of Yangshila. Our objective function was to maximize revenue opportunities and biodiversity while minimizing environmental impact.
Mobile Irrigation Market Analysis (Uganda): Agriworks Uganda Ltd. is a start-up company in Mukono, Uganda that provides comprehensive farming solutions for small farmers. One of their services, the Agriworks Mobile Irrigation System (AMIS), has been in the R&D phase for the last several years. The goal of this project is to conduct an initial market analysis feasibility study for the AMIS. Because this is the first coordinated market analysis project, we worked in close collaboration with our client to gather pertinent information.
Mobile Irrigation Technical Analysis (Uganda): This report has been compiled with the intent of summarizing the progress made on the AMIS (Agricultural Mobile Irrigation System) during this quarter, and includes the problem scope and development, current design specifications and how they came about, and the benchmarks for progress in the next quarter. From the beginning of the quarter, the AMIS project’s main goals have been to train its members in the fabrication techniques necessary for further work on building frame prototypes, and to purchase the equipment for assembly of the complete AMIS.
Cool Chain Analysis (Kenya): The aim of this report is to investigate energy demand, cost and financial feasibility of CoolBot installation in Western Kenya. In order to understand the benefits and impacts of the introduction of this technology through the four lenses of social, technical, environmental and economic interests, a review of the agricultural, energy and finance sectors were conducted. Initial review of these sectors show that there is ample opportunity and demand for cool room storage in the region. Further encouraging, cool chain interventions have great potential to directly and indirectly benefit all four target lenses.
Post-Harvest Grain Storage (Zambia): Nationally, on average, Zambia looses around 30% of its maize post-harvest (Jensen). The Zambian government’s maize programs are often late in providing farmers with inputs, as well as, credit payments for harvested maize (Silungwe). The resulting economic instability for smallholder farmers has kept the country from reaching its economic potential. Our clients business, Zasaka, aims to ameliorate the situation by providing hermetically sealed (air-tight) maize sacks, and buying dried maize from farmers at a competitive price. Zasaka will then store the maize and sell it at peak market price; Zasaka will then use the profits to expand the business. The feasibility advantages, as well as, the potential problems in Zasaka’s business, value chain, and proposed pilot locations, were investigated via literature research and interviews with in-country contacts. Our goal was to provide go-to-market recommendations that would give Zasaka the best chance of success.
Energy Microgrid (Sudan): This report summarizes the efforts carried out by our team for the project that focused on the maintenance and replication of the network of solar water pumps in Bara, Sudan. It’s a rural collection of villages in North Kurdufan, central Sudan which is in the northeastern part of Africa. Water availability for daily purposes i.e. drinking, cleaning and irrigation purposes were identified as a huge problem in this area. Women bear the brunt of the problem. They endure traveling long distances to collect water, and waiting in long queues for extensive periods of time. Pre-existing solar pumps installed by agencies such as the Swedish-Sudanese Partnership, helped reduce this burden; however, there is still a large scope of work to be done to increase the number of solar water pumps in order to improve the quality of life for these people.
Cool Room Insulation (Kenya): To address high percentages of losses in transporting produce to regional markets, a cool room chain is being implemented in Western Kenya. These cool rooms will serve as temporary storage facilities at locations where losses are occurring at the highest rates. Our team analyzed possible insulation materials for these cool rooms, comparing locally sourced materials to standard imported insulation available in Nairobi. The most viable options locally are rice hulls and corn husks, though other materials could be viable with testing. Either used as a loose fill or processed into panels, these materials have been shown to have insulative properties comparable to standard panels. While the infrastructure for processing rice hulls into corn husks is not currently in place, if implemented, this labor could create an economic opportunity in the form of an insulation business. Overall, further testing is necessary to determine the practicality of each material and construction method, but locally-sourced, agricultural waste insulation is worth investigating further.