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The Kalahari Goes Green

A lightbulb. A radio. Maybe a cell phone charger. In Botswana—a country slightly smaller than Texas with the population of Houston—many villagers can't power these basic electronics to communicate with their fellow countrymen, let alone the world. Enter a small team of researchers from the Case School of Engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

Katie Puttmann, Grace Chen and Duncan Davis accompanied by chemical engineering professors, Dan Lacks and R. Mohan Sankaran visited the Southern African nation last November as part of their senior design project. The students investigated sustainable energy solutions to provide electricity to remote villages in the Kalahari Desert.  After extensive interviews with local residents, entrepreneurs, and University of Botswana faculty the team found that green energy efforts such as solar power is more cost efficient than wiring the outback to the national electrical grid.

“Our students were able to see first-hand how the way of life is totally different for people in African villages, and how these differences often necessitate fundamentally different engineering solutions,” says Lacks, C. Benson Branch Professor of Chemical Engineering.  “Sustainable energy solutions that are not economically viable in the US may be the most economically effective solutions in many African villages.”

Lacks and Sankaran will return this summer with 15 to 20 more Case Western Reserve students to teach "Thermodynamics, Fluid Dynamics, Heat and Mass Transfer." Besides studying elementary thermodynamic concepts, basic fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and mass transfer, the course, taught at the University of Botswana, will utilize engineering applications and an experiencial approach involving field trips to discuss Botswana’s regional issues.