Members of the ASU community are working with several international partners to bring lights and cell phone chargers to people living in rural Africa.
Michael Pugliese, a mechanical engineering technology graduate student, designed the sustainable lighting technology called Twig Light last spring in response to African villagers’ requests for lights.
“[Twig Light] started as part of a special topics class that requires students to come up with solutions to problems in rural villages and competes with other schools [to develop them] with extreme affordability,” Pugliese said. “No one has lighting in these third-world countries, so I decided to work on that for my project.”
Each student in ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation special topics class was required to develop his or her own design for a no-tech or low-tech solution to one of many problems stemming from poverty in developing countries.
The Twig Light system works to produce light in areas where there is no electricity using energy captured from heat. A heat source is placed into an aluminum combustion chamber above a thermal electric power generator cell, which converts the heat directly into electricity, Pugliese said.
The generator is above a heat sink, which is placed in cool water to create a temperature gradient across the generator.
“It can take any kind of heat, be it from leftover coals from fires, charcoal or burning twigs or other biomass, and turn it directly into power,” Pugliese said. “As long as there is a temperature difference it will create electricity.”
The system is unique because it requires no moving parts and the generator itself can be placed outside — both of which increase safety, he said.
The class works in conjunction with Global Resolve, a social entrepreneurship program established at ASU in 2006 to implement these solutions in several villages, including Domeabra, Ghana.
Members of Global Resolve have made six trips to Domeabra over the past two-and-a-half years to investigate the needs of the villagers, said ASU professor Brad Rogers, the Global Resolve director of research and development.
The organization then works in the U.S. to develop inexpensive solutions that can eventually be replicated in Africa. This is done in part through the special topics class, which Rogers teaches.
“We have spent a lot of time talking to the villagers and finding out about their wants, needs and aspirations,” Rogers said. “They are really frustrated because right now they have to go to bed when the sun goes down because they have absolutely no lighting.”
Lighting and cell phone chargers were the two main wishes of the villagers during the group’s most recent visit this past summer.
“No one there has lights, but they all have cell phones,” Pugliese said. “It’s kind of odd, but that’s what they want, so that’s what we are working to give them.”
Members of Global Resolve took nine prototypes to Domeabra over the summer and are currently working to improve them based on feedback from the villagers.
“The villagers just love them, so we are trying to improve the design to send more as well as make it so the villagers can build and sell them locally,” Rogers said.
The first improvement is to add cell phone chargers, which will be funded using grant money from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA).
The alliance awarded Global Reserves $16,000 to make the improvements, as well as to fund another return to Domeabra next summer.
Pugliese said he is enthusiastic about the project and looks forward to seeing what else will come from it.
“The immediate goal is to incorporate the cell phone chargers, but the possibilities are completely limitless. These people have absolutely nothing,” he said. “They live in mud huts and providing them with electricity can provide a lot of improvements for them. It really is limitless.”