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Summer 2012 Blog - Mauricio Castillo

Mauricio Castillo is spending ten weeks at the Nicaraguan energy company blueEnergy.

June 31st, 2012

mauracio_construct

Constructing the combustion chamber in the workshop

I have very much enjoyed the past month working and living in Bluefields. I have been working for the San Francisco-based company blueEnergy, which focuses on implementing renewable energy, water quality programs, and other development initiatives in Bluefields and its surrounding communities. The Caribbean coast is the poorest region in the country, lacking infrastructure, access to clean water, basic sanitation, and energy.The designing and implementation of efficient cook stoves is a new avenue that blueEnergy is pursuing. According to the World Health Organization nearly 2 million people (mostly women and children) worldwide die from complications attributable to smoke inhalation from cooking and other forms of burning solid fuels. The majority of the country’s population cooks over open wood fires, including the communities surrounding Bluefields.

The bulk of my time has been spent researching efficiency concepts and features, locating the proper materials for construction, and working on my design. Efficient cook stoves are capable of using 50% less wood mitigating deforestation impacts on local forests and reducing smoke emissions. The most important feature is constructing the combustion chamber with the proper insulative materials to maximize heat transfer as opposed to heat absorption. The placement and spacing of the combustion chamber and other gas channels must be calculated in accordance to the size of the pots that will be used, and must have a proportionate cross sectional area to maximize air and gas flow rate.

After interviewing several potential beneficiaries I have chosen to build the stove for a family of 5 nearby the blueEnergy office. This family cooks solely with wood, which they collect themselves from a nearby forest that is a 30 minutes away. The mother cooks in an enclosed space on a traditional cook stove which consists of the pot being placed over three stones with the firewood placed underneath. These traditional cook stoves require a lot of wood because the heat generated is not concentrated and escapes around the sides of the pot. The mother expressed concern about the smoke inhalation because her young children are always nearby and often times there is enough smoke produced to cause discomfort while she is cooking.The stove will heat two pots at once, though there will be reduced smoke emissions, l will also construct a chimney to channel smoke up and out of the kitchen. I have enjoyed the design and building process and look forward to seeing my project come into fruition.

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A few blueEnergy team members and the volunteers for the solar system rewiring

A few weeks ago I spent 4 days in a jungle reserve, rewiring a previous solar install. The solar system powers a two story house, a workshop, and a separate multiuse room. We replaced all the wiring within the house as well as installed conduit, junction boxes, lights, switches and outlets. I also installed a lighting arrestor to protect the system’s components against power surges from lightening and other erratic variations in the power supply. It was a great experience learning to wire an entire house, especially one in the jungle! I also spent half a day at the nearby agroforestry school, to take data on their cooking fuel consumption. The school currently houses and feeds 150 students, due to the large amount of food that is produced, the kitchen is always filled with smoke and generates excessive heat which can make cooking even more difficult. The organization which runs the school FADCANIC, has plans to redo the kitchen with a more efficient cooking system in the near future. The next few weeks I will be helping to write a proposal for them and researching larger scale designs. As I am completing my project I will write a manual for construction, and work on a designing a protocol to implement and evaluate future cook stove initiatives.

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