We-Lab offers Wellesley students the opportunity to engage in research associated with engineering during the semester and in the summer. Most opportunities are for independent study; there are also some possibilities for funding. Please contact Amy Banzaert for details, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer 2013 Research Projects
Searching for an Alternative to Wood Charcoal for Cooking in Developing Countries: Environmental Life Cycle Analysis of Agricultural Waste Charcoal
Iglika Atassanova, '15
Nearly half of the developing world depends on the use of biomass, including wood and wood charcoal, for cooking. Burning biomass in the kitchen creates indoor air pollution, which is the cause of death for close to 1 million people. While the use of wood charcoal (WC) would cut these deaths in half, the environmental impact of switching from wood to wood charcoal would be devastating. This tension has inspired the search for an alternative cooking fuel with health impacts comparable to wood charcoal but reduced environmental impact. One proposal is agricultural waste charcoal (AWC), which is produced by the carbonization of agricultural wastes including sugarcane bagasse, a byproduct of the harvesting of sugar. Previous research conducted by Amy Banzaert has compared AWC and WC based on their combustion emissions, but they have not been compared formally to evaluate which is less damaging to the environment.
A life cycle assessment (LCA) was created in order to quantitatively evaluate the impacts of WC and AWC on the environment. LCA is a “cradle-to-grave” method that considers the inputs and outputs for each of all four stages of a product’s life – raw materials acquisition, manufacturing, use, and disposal – and evaluates the cumulative environmental impacts that result from them.
Based on the IMPACT 2002+ methodology, AWC has a positive impact in the category of global warming. Although the impact is modest, choosing AWC instead of WC would serve to mitigate climate change processes. As expected, wood charcoal’s greatest negative environmental impact is in terms of land occupation, where tree harvesting and the carbonization process contribute most substantially. Based on weighted results, we reached the preliminary conclusion that although AWC and WC are both harmful in terms of their impact on human health, the environmental benefits outweigh the human health effects, making AWC a viable fuel to WC.
Designing a Standard: How to Measure Carbon Monoxide Emission from Cookstoves
Elena Shaw, '15
Approximately 3 billion people – nearly half of the world’s population – use solid fuels such as wood and charcoal for cooking and heating. Annually, 2 million people die prematurely from illnesses associated with indoor air pollution from cooking fuels; many more have suffered significant decreases in their quality of life due to disabilities exacerbated by such conditions. While much research has been conducted to quantify the extent of harmful emissions that these people may be exposed to, there is a need for a reliable, accurate, and affordable process for calculating this.
This project focused on developing a procedure and universal enclosure to measure emissions from cooking fires in an affordable and repeatable
manner. Tests were run to learn the behavior of carbon monoxide emissions. Carbon monoxide was chosen as a representational proxy for other harmful smoke emissions. To simulate real conditions, a kerosene fueled fire was burned in a ventilated tent while carbon monoxide concentrations were actively logged during and after the burn. Tests were run to understand the measurability of carbon monoxide based on the effects of ambient temperature, humidity, wind conditions, and proximity to the fire. The results showed that humidity and ambient temperature had minimal to no effect on the measurability of carbon monoxide emissions while wind conditions and proximity to the fire did. Gusts of wind blowing away from the sensor yielded lower CO measurements while winds blowing against sensors measured higher CO concentrations. Wind conditions also changed the effect of proximity of sensors to the fire: above 2km/h wind speed, wind direction had more influence on measurements then proximity did.