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Solution - thick as a briquette


8 August 2014

Advanced engineering students with briquette
Advanced engineering students with briquette


Small charcoal briquettes made from compressed rice husks could save Nepalese women and children up to five hours of hard labour each day and improve their health and wellbeing according to engineering students at the University of Sydney.

The students, who are in the University's Advanced Engineering Program have devised a simple, affordable alternative to the daily drudgery of gathering firewood from remote forest areas - a charcoal briquette machine.

The team of five designed the machine - from local materials - to compress rice husk waste into compact, smoke free, easy to store fuel solutions. Their design was the winner of this year's Advanced Professional Engineering Prototype Demonstration judged by delegates from engineering firm, WorleyParsons.

Liam Heidt, a first year undergraduate engineering student says his team's device aims to improve three issues facing a region once famous for its formidable Ghurkha military force - the poor health, financial hardship and lack of schooling in the region.

"In the Sandikhola area food gathering and preparation is the main activity of the village. It is centred on the male of the house working in the rice paddy fields and the women and children collecting necessary elements for preparing and cooking the food, such as firewood," says Liam.

"So much time is spent gathering the wood that children miss out on an education and the cycle of poverty persists.

"The wood is also burned inside homes with little or no ventilation. The harmful gases, ash, particulates and sulphur compounds are trapped within the home causing serious health problems such as pneumonia, acute bronchiolitis and even low birth weight," Liam says.

Fellow team member Aishwarya Cherian says the group wanted to design a solution that would be long-term and self-sustaining, and empower the local people.

"Time saved gathering firewood can be used to improve their quality of life, educate the children and provide an independent income," she says.

While researching for the project we discovered a group of women in Uganda who collect biodegradable waste from rubbish dumps and compress them into fuel balls and sell them to locals.

We believe the excess briquettes made in Sandikhola could be sold at the local market, improving the economic position of the villagers," says Aishwarya.

Professor Ron Johnston, Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Innovation and student mentor said:

"These types of activities provide talented young engineering students with the opportunity to extend their tertiary experience through group-based action learning focused on real-world projects.

The team believes their device could be implemented across the wider Gorkha area and other regions of Nepal," Professor Johnston said.

The group including, Aishwarya Cherian, Aditya Katiyar, Liam Heidt, Jeremy Smith and Kieran Dale plan to present their Charcoal Briquette Machine at the 2014 Engineers Without Borders Challenge in December.

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Media enquiries
Victoria Hollick, T 9351 2579, 0401 711 361 victoria.hollick@sydney.edu.au