6 December 2012
Rural housing in provincial Vietnam can be hot and damp, but an innovative project developed by University of Sydney advanced engineering students may provide the solution to keeping them cool and dry.
A team of six students calling themselves the 'DragonFly' has won this year's cross-Tasman Engineers without Borders (EWB) engineering challenge by designing an innovative and sustainable way to improve the thermal comfort of houses in An Minh in the Kien Giang province of Vietnam.
Their approach included three components - wooden louvred windows, activated carbon-based dehumidifiers, and a solar chimney to provide year-round airflow, all at a cost of only $20 per household.
During the challenge the team built scale prototypes of each component then tested their models in a wind tunnel.
The team, Gordon Liang, John Mai, Rebecca Tan, Chantelle Thistleton, Warren Dang and Sammy Cheung competed against respective champion groups representing the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and New Zealand.
The province is part of the Mekong Delta region in the Southern tip of Vietnam, and is one of the most productive agricultural regions in South East Asia, providing up to 50 percent of Vietnam's rice requirements.
Despite its importance it remains one of the poorest regions in Vietnam, lagging behind the rest of the country in areas such as education and infrastructure.
Engineering honours student Catherine Goonan who tutored the team to its victory said this year's EWB Challenge which partnered with Habitat for Humanity Vietnam (HFHV) was aiming to find inexpensive but effective solutions to issues around water and sanitation, energy and safe housing in Vietnam.
"Some of the finalist's projects explored rainwater filtration and storage, sustainable housing materials, a hand washing station, bio-digestion and even a floating house design," she said.
However, it was the University of Sydney's three-pronged approach to ventilation and dehumidification of housing that took out the Champion Award for best student project.
An EWB and HFHV workshop will be held in April 2013 to discuss the potential of implementing the submitted projects.
The Engineering Without Borders Challenge forms the major component of the first year Advanced Engineering course. This course, coordinated by Professor Ron Johnston from the Australian Centre for Innovation, places great emphasis on team-based learning supported by intensive coaching, detailed analysis of context to determine what might be the right problem to solve, intertwined design and prototype development and testing, and refinement of communication skills to a professional presenter level. "It is this unique approach, combined with the skills and commitment of the students, that I believe gives Sydney the edge", said Professor Johnston.
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