Small wind turbines to help countries

March 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A group of young Silicon Valley tech workers working with Engineers Without Borders have designed a small wind turbine meant to provide power to villagers in rural Guatemala. This is just the latest of several humanitarian projects these volunteers have created.

This small wind turbine is the brainchild of the Appropriate Technology Design Group in Mountain View. Soon it will be providing about 15 watts of power to homes in small Guatemalan villages that have no electricity.

"We'll start small. All they have is an LED light that they use for a couple of hours every night to do household tasks, a small radio they'll listen to a couple of hours," said Heather Flemming from Appropriate Technology Design Group.

The turbine is made from parts readily available in Guatemala. Bicycle gear parts, plastic sheeting and tubing make up the wings. A small generator provides power to a storage battery. The cost is about $100 dollars.

"A low cost Ikea-style kit turbine that could be affordable to a community," said Flemming.

Stanford graduate Heather Flemming is the product designer for the project. Born on a New Mexico Indian reservation, she says she knows how some things we take for granted, are priceless to the less fortunate.

"I come from an area where a lot of people around me didn't have running water or even electricity. So I wanted to find a way without becoming a civil engineer that I could help these people," said Flemming.

She and the other young engineers on the project volunteer to work with Engineers Without Borders. For the past five years, that group has provided many innovative technological products to developing countries. Most of Heather's team works here at Design To Manufacturing or D2M. The company provides material and a workspace for the group.

"Really you can't develop products without an understanding of where you as a person fit into society," said Andy Butler, the president of D2M.

Malcolm Knapp is an electrical engineer. He sees designing products like the turbine as an opportunity.

"There it seems like you can change the world sort of and you can really have an impact," said Knapp.

This wind turbine is the team's latest project. They are also working on a desalinization project in India a water filtration system in the Philippines and they have already put fuel efficient stoves in Darfur.

Sudanese refugees are now using those stoves. They use less wood and provide more heat and they're also portable. Engineers Without Borders will take the wind turbine to Guatemala next month.

To help the effort to bring power to small Guatemalan villages:
www.ewb-sfp.org


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