High school students, a parent and a teacher from the Frederick County Career and Technology Center traveled to Ethiopia Monday with a prototype stove that will provide clean drinking water to a rural school and its surrounding community.
The trip is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Frederick after it approached the students several years ago about a way to provide clean drinking water to Melka Oba, a school in Ethiopia.
The rotary club’s international committee’s project was to install a pipeline to bring clean water to the school, but that would have taken two years and cost about $150,000.
To provide a quicker alternative, rotary member, Jo Elizabeth Butler, reached out to Phil Arnold, computer-aided design architecture and engineering instructor at CTC, and brainstormed ways he and his students could come up with an idea.
Butler is an international lawyer who worked at the United Nations before retiring to Frederick.
As part of her work with the U.N. she worked in Ethiopia from 2000 to 2004. During her time there she wanted to help local schools dealing with drought situations.
“When I came to the rotary club I wanted to find a sustainable way to help the [Ethiopian] community,” she said on a phone call from Ethiopia. “And the [Ethiopian] community said their most difficult problem happened to be a lack of water.”
With her husband being Ethiopian, she spends half her time in Ethiopia and half her time in Frederick. She is currently in the developing country working on several projects and preparing for the students’ arrival.
Access to clean drinking water for this community will decrease the chance of the students and community contacting contagious diseases, infections and illnesses.
“We’re really excited about it,” Butler said. “It’s better for their health, it’s better for their concentration at school as well.”
About 20 students have been working on the prototype, a rocket stove, for about three years, according to John Kriner, computer-aided design architecture and engineering instructor.
The seven students going to Africa were picked by who was most involved and who had the capacity to go. Some of the first students who worked on the project have graduated.
The project and trip are sponsored by the Rotary Club of Frederick. Donations also came in from individuals and other clubs such as the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek and the Frederick County Building Industry Association.
The funds will cover the groups’ travel expenses, costing about $23,000, according to Anne Rollins, president of the Rotary Club of Frederick.
The project was also funded by a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program, a program that assists high school students and educators “invent technological solutions to real-world problems of their own choosing,” according to its website.
“We’re just happy to be able to support the Career and Technology Center students to help us fulfill our mission for international service,” Rollins said. “This project was helpful in a more expedited manner to provide clean water to the village.”
The students traveling to Ethiopia are Jerry Huang, sophomore, Urbana High School; Nathan Nardini, junior, Urbana High School; Ian Kline, junior, Gov. Thomas Johnson High School, Jess Twilley junior, Oakdale High School, Olivia Dart, senior, Catoctin High School, Connor Huyck, senior, Gov. Thomas Johnson High School and Andrew Daddone, a 2018 Gov. Thomas Johnson High School graduate who now attends North Carolina State University studying mechanical engineering.
Kriner will also join the students on the trip. They will return on June 16.
How the rocket stove works
The five-foot-tall pyramid-shaped rocket stove is made up of steel plates and is held together by its own weight. It’s 200 pounds and comes apart in to about 20 pieces, which the students will be storing in their luggage to travel to Ethiopia.
Daddone, who now attends NC State, said that a rocket stove is an existing technology and intakes air at a much higher rate than a regular stove.
“The way that we used it to heat water and then develop it into something like this is all new,” he said, adding that the concept is patent pending.
A hose comes out of the front of the stove and connects to a 50-gallon drum. The drum contains copper tubing for the condenser, but it will be replaced with aluminum tubing in Ethiopia as copper is very rare in the developing country.
A 50-gallon barrel was already purchased and in Ethiopia waiting for the group.
The stove uses low fuel consumption to generate high heat, Daddone explained.
The top piece is taken off and water is poured in. Dirt, clay and other contaminants filter through to the bottom. The mud and clay will also act as an insulator and a foundation to make the stove sturdier.
From there, the contaminated water heats up. The stove has a heatsink fan, a device used in computers that pushes out heat to prevent overheating, but in the stove it’s used to pull in heat to help the water evaporate faster.
“It takes in a lot more air than a regular furnace, which also increases the temperature,” Daddone said.
“From there we vaporize the water inside of the chamber,” he added. “It goes through all of the tubing, and inside of the 50-gallon drum is filled with cooled water so that the vapor goes through the copper tubing and cools down back into liquid. Then it just goes down the tube and at the bottom where it will be a collected.”
To generate fuel, long shoots of bamboo are fed into an opening near the front of the stove.
“That’s why it’s so efficient,” he said. “You burn just small parts of the bamboo and it slowly feeds itself down. We’re using bamboo because Africa faces a huge deforestation problem already and that wasn’t something we wanted to contribute to. Bamboo grows very fast so we have constant replenishment of fuel.”
The prototype is called a rocket stove due to the noise it makes.
“When it’s running it sounds almost like a rocket,” he said. “Because the air is shooting up through it.”
The stove is built to last five years and will be placed in a borehole near the school. A borehole is a well, but dug much deeper that uses a pump instead of raising water.
The borehole hasn’t been used in seven years due to contamination.
What the students will experience
The students will meet with several rotary clubs in Ethiopia as well as the U.S. Ambassador to the country, according to Butler. They will also give a presentation about the prototype to embassy staff.
They will meet colleagues at Icog, a start-up intelligence lab, meet a 19-year-old who teaches local children to code and visit the Ethiopian Museum of National History where they will view Lucy, the oldest fossils found of a hominid.
Butler wants the students to learn more about the developing country and how the locals live their day-to-day lives.
“There’s poverty and there’s challenges,” she said. “But it’s also a powerfully, beautiful country with a rich culture, rich history and a very rich civilization. I don’t want them to see Africa with one lens.”
Kriner is excited about seeing the power of invention, and what it can do.
He wants the students to take away any and all perspectives from “lifestyle, understanding how others live, how they can help future engineers and to understand that their creativity can touch boundaries that they never thought could.”
Huang is excited about interacting with the kids in the school and to experience what life is like in Ethiopia.
“I’m just excited to go another continent,” Nardini said. “I’ve never had the chance to travel. This is going to be kind of cool [to experience] a different landscape and a different culture.”
“Every part of the trip is going to be a new experience for us,” Twilley added.
Daddone is excited to see the project finally be put to use.
“Since the beginning it was one step at a time,” he said. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it through, we didn’t know if we were going to get funding to build the project and we didn’t know if we would ever receive funding to actually go there. So from being on it for three years and finally actually making it to Ethiopia is kind of awesome.”