A professor and a group of students have designed a vehicle that will address food supply shortages and alleviate transportation issues in an impoverished Cameroon village.
This summer, the group will tackle two pressing technological issues in Bangang, Cameroon: Transportation and energy. The 25 students, representing the colleges of engineering, technology and agriculture, have designed a basic utility vehicle, a hydroelectric power unit and a hand press to convert waste biomass into briquettes for fuel.
John Lumkes, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, is leading the project and has designed inexpensive BUVs since 2000. His BUV building experience inspired him to start this project in 2009 and visit Cameroon the past two years.
"Thirty percent of the food there rots during the rainy season," Lumkes said. "We can prevent this by providing better transportation.
"We are designing a vehicle that can be built with local tools and resources in Bangang. This vehicle is something basic that they can easily build, fix and maintain."
The community they will visit has a lot of raw material and natural resources but it doesn't have the power tools required to build and maintain a BUV.
"The most important goal of the project is to build a BUV with less than $2,000," Lumkes said. "It must also carry a pay load of up to 1,500 pounds."
The students have built and are testing the prototype for the vehicle. They will carry the raw materials and pre-designed parts of the vehicle to Bangang and rebuild the BUV during their stay.
"Our design will be replicated by the residents of Cameroon at a very inexpensive price," said Ryan Prater, a senior in the College of Engineering and captain of the group. "All the parts to build the car can be bought there. This will have a huge impact on lots of people's lives.
The group is sponsored by the Global Engineering Program. They are collaborating with African Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Energy Technology, a partner organization in Cameroon.
During last year's trip, the students modeled the rainfall watershed in Bangang. Aided by an Environmental Protection Agency grant, they have utilized this data to design a hydroelectric power system that can provide consistent energy during the rainy and dry seasons.
They have also designed a portable biomass hand compressor that can convert solid biowaste into briquettes - solid biofuel.
Lumkes emphasized that the trip is a great cultural learning experience.
"When we are there, we don't live in a hotel. We live in the community," Lumkes said. "All our food is cooked over the fire and even the electricity was not constant the first time I went."
The group leaves on May 9 and will stay there for three weeks.