This blog entry is about a review of the year 2020 and our expectations for the new year 2021. The past year will certainly be remembered by most people mainly because of the serious consequences of the Corona pandemic. We, too, had to get used to the new conditions created by the pandemic and adapt our way of working accordingly. Although many processes were slowed down or even hindered as a result, in retrospect we can still be very satisfied with what we achieved in 2020.
While in 2019, we mainly used our time to prepare for the departure and the construction of a plant in Germany, we were able to start 2020 directly with an important milestone of the current project phase, the departure of our volunteers to Tanzania in January and February 2020. Through this departure, we were able to build a solid foundation for the later course and success of the SoWaDi project.
First of all, we were able to carry out maintenance work on two of our solar water disinfection systems, which were built in Mwanga in 2017 together with our partner Kilimanjaro Childlight Foundation. In addition to the maintenance work, technical improvements of the two plants could be realized there. In the neighboring town of Kidia, Old-Moshi district, we were also able to build four new plants, so that Tanzania now has a total of six of our test plants.
Back from the trip to Tanzania, we are in weekly exchange with the beneficiaries to get data on the water output of the plants. Also, we get to know if there are problems with the plants and can give advice. To check the functioning of the plants, our project partner carries out water tests at regular intervals.
It is very important for our current test phase to obtain reliable data on the plants. To expand the data situation regarding the performance of the plants, students of the TU Darmstadt developed a self-sufficient measuring system in cooperation with our project team from May to August of last year. This measurement system was affectionately named MONA (Monitoring Offgrid Node for Assessment of SoWaDi Performance). A detailed blog entry about this measurement system can be found here. It is definitely worth reading!
In August 2020, our first construction manual was published. In order to achieve a worldwide availability of the plants, the material purchase and construction should be possible with this construction manual alone. The first version of the instructions was already created during a departure journey in 2017. Since then, however, we have been able to gain important experience regarding the construction by building the plant several times (twice during the departure in 2017, in summer 2018 and 2019, and four times during the 2020 outbound trip) and have been able to improve the instructions from 2017 crucially. By the way, the construction manualcan be freely downloaded here and is definitely worth a look!
In the third phase of the project, the current test phase, the main goal is to collect as much data as possible on the use, quality, and durability of the plant, so that in the long term, technical optimizations and efficiency improvements can be made. Only after these improvements, the plant can be distributed beyond Tanzania. With this in mind, the departure in 2020, the development of the MONA measurement system, and the publication of our construction manual were very important steps for the success of the SoWaDi’s project. Thus, as a project group, we are extremely satisfied with the results of these three events.
For the coming year 2021, we naturally want to build on the project success of the past year and accordingly also have certain goals and some expectations.
In order to obtain a broad and diversified database, it would be desirable to set up even more plants at different locations. For this purpose, we want to cooperate with other Engineers without Borders projects to build and test SoWaDi plants in their project regions. Our construction manual will also be very helpful for this purpose.
Another point we want to follow up on are the MONA boards. On the one hand, we want to use them to analyze the performance of the plants in Tanzania in more detail and, on the other hand, to equip any new plants that may be built as part of an Engineers Without Borders cooperation directly with our measuring system.
Last but not least, we also want to build a new, second test plant in Darmstadt in 2021. This will allow constructive changes to be tested directly on one of the plants and subsequently, the results can be compared with the unchanged plant. The aim is to evaluate the changes in terms of performance and thus to be able to work out concrete improvements.
Our test plant DE01 is located on the experimental field of the TU Darmstadt. After successfully developing and testing a measuring system here in summer 2020, which will provide us with important data on the performance of the plant in the coming summers, the plant has now been sent into winter break: Different to our target countries such as Tanzania, the sun only shines for a few hours in winter in Germany, so that the DE01 plant cannot produce output over the winter and thus cannot provide usable measurement data. In order to protect the plant from sub-zero temperatures, ice, snow and wind, and related wear and tear during the winter months, it has now been made winter-proof by a small team.
For this purpose, the water was completely removed from the system, the sensitive parts of the measuring system were dismantled and the plant was covered to protect it from moisture. In this small video, the SoWaDi team introduces itself as it works to prepare the facility for winter. Unfortunately, the video is only available in German.
However, the fact that our plant is hibernating does not mean that our project group is also sleeping. In the summer, the new measurement system has already been used to collect a lot of data, which is now being evaluated by our performance group in order to make SoWaDi even more efficient in the future. In addition, we are currently working on new cooperations to spread our plant so that further test facilities can be built in Tanzania or other target countries in the coming year. Another test facility is also to be built in Darmstadt next spring. The construction of the second plant in Germany will be able to test further technical developments in real operation. For this purpose, technical changes are made to one of the two plants, and the performance is compared simultaneously with the unchanged reference system. This set-up is already being planned and prepared by our project group.
From May to August 2020 the students Steffen Bißwanger, Leon Dungs, Sara Konrad, Nikola Milenkovski and Alexander Zinn carried out a project as part of their studies at the TU Darmstadt in cooperation with our project SoWaDi. The goal was the development of a self-sufficient measurement system, which allows the determination of SoWaDi units efficiencies in the field. This is to be achieved by automated data collection of solar radiation, water output and environmental conditions.
In the following you can read some recordings from the students’ laboratory book. There they recorded their progress and described how they overcame the challenges they faced during the project.
Phase 1: Selection of components
Today we firstly get to know each other, online of course, and get accustomed to the Solar Thermal Water Disinfection Unit we will work with during the project. Two of our team members already know the unit well. The rest of us are just getting to know it. In order to develop a suitable measuring system, it is important to have a good understanding of the function of the unit and the conditions in which it is used.
Some time ago, we were able to agree on which quantities we wanted to measure. The important question now is: How? Today we discuss our latest ideas about which low-cost sensors and designs will give us the best results. A special challenge is to measure the amount of water coming out of the unit. In the past, several attempts have been made, which failed due to different reasons. Temperature variations from day to night have led to unreliable results of load cells and a sensor with moving parts blocked when it was used in wind and weather. But we have a new idea: a cut-off glass bottle with a small hole in the lid can be turned upside down to serve as a collecting container and accumulation device for the minutely water flushes from the unit. We then measure the time it takes for the glass bottle to empty again after a flush.
We are finally ready: After 5 hours of discussion we have selected suitable components for all sensors, the computing units of the system, the data transmission and the power supply. Now all we can do is wait until the order arrives and hope that everything fits together.
We just got the message that the first package has arrived. Now the real work can begin.
Phase 2: Programming and building the measuring system
Except for one team member, none of us has worked with the microcontrollers we want to use for the project yet: Arduinos.
After we have set up the programming interface on the computer, we can finally load the first program onto the Arduino.
The Arduino starts blinking. Hurray! Let’s see if it will be as easy to connect and read out the sensors as well.
We were able to get the SD card reader, the current meters to measure the sun intensity and the simple thermometers working without any problems. The somewhat more complicated thermometers for the higher temperatures, however, only show strange values so far. Where they come from, we cannot explain. One thermometer shows us 65°C and another 9°C, both temperatures are definitely not correct.
We just found a way to correct the strange values. One parameter in the calculation formula is a comparative voltage. While measuring this voltage at the sensors we noticed that it is different for each sensor individually. Now that we have incorporated this into the software, all thermometers show plausible values.
We are now already in the middle of June, the weather offers optimal conditions to test the new measuring system. It is therefore about time to finally attach the measuring system to the unit. Therefore we are working at maximum effort to complete the circuit board for the measuring system. We solder all connections by hand. Hopefully our plan will work out. Also, the data transfer via the cellular module still doesn’t work. After we have ordered a better module in the meantime, at least we could get a connection to the mobile network, we unfortunately still haven’t managed to send the data automatically. Slowly time is running out. If we don’t manage to solve this, the whole project could fail.
After two days of hard work the board is soldered. The measuring system can finally be installed in itscase, where it will be protected from rain when installed on the unit. We also made important progress with the sending of the data. The microcontrollers are now slowly reaching the limits of their computing capacity, further changes are becoming more and more difficult to implement. Fortunately, only a few minor software problems need to be fixed now, and then the measurements can start soon.
Phase 3: Attaching the measurement system to the unit
The time has come: Today we can finally install the measuring system. It has been running continuously since yesterday and is ready for use.
We have been waiting for the first data to arrive for 3 minutes now. Now comes the moment of truth. If everything goes smoothly today, we are confident that the measurement system will continue to work for the next three months until too little light is available in October.
The first data have reached us. We are relived. We have done it and deserve a break for a while. As soon as we have enough data, we can start evaluating it and start to write a full report.
With the measurements over a period of 30 days, the team has succeeded in finding out which sensors are relevant and suitable for the assesment of efficiency. So that in the future it will be possible to build a low-cost measurement system that can perform all important measurements. Almost the entire team will continue to develop the measurement system on a voluntary basis at Engineers Without Borders in Darmstadt. The new measurement system is called MONA (Monitoring Offgrid Node for Assessment of SoWaDi Performance). In the future MONA will help to collect long-term data in Tanzania and to further develop the SoWaDi unit in Darmstadt. In contrast to her mother, MONA is a little smaller and more compact, and also not as transparent, just perfectly equipped for a world tour.
As already announced in the previous blog entry, we had the possibility to give an online talk for SoWaDi supporters on 29.10.2020.
The presentation, which we are now able to provide in form of a video, gives an overview of the idea and the history of our research project, as well as of our project phase in Tanzania in spring 2020 and an outlook into the future. It was held by three members of the project group: Julius Breuer, Sara Konrad and Jan Erik Schliephake. Philipp Erdmann from the Darmstadt regional group was the moderator.
We apologize that the presentation is only available in German. Nevertheless, we would like to make it available here as well. The talk lasts about 30 minutes. Afterwards you can listen to the entire Q&A session of about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the first 20 seconds of the presentation are missing due to technical difficulties. This is a great pity, but does not diminish the content of the lecture in any way! 🙂
We would like to thank all those who took part and made for an exciting Q&A session with their questions!
Access to safe water has been recognized worldwide as a human right since 2010. However, contaminated water continues to be a major problem for the health of the local population in many parts of the world. Therefore we develop SoWaDi.
SoWaDi stands for Solar Water Disinfection: The solar water disinfection systems developed and researched in the project use solar energy to improve the water quality. Since 2010 we have been developing technical solutions together with local partners in rural areas of Tanzania to improve the water situation for families and at schools.
The aim of our project is to ensure that as many people as possible have access to germ-free water, because clean water protects against diseases such as typhoid fever and cholera. To achieve this, a construction manual is available free of charge. This enables everyone to build and install the system themselves using locally available, inexpensive materials.
The work, which continues despite the corona pandemic, is carried out in close cooperation with our local project partner Kilimanjaro Childlight Foundation (KCF). In Tanzania, together with local school groups and families, six of the systems have already been installed. The local supervisors of the facilities regularly collect and evaluate the data, which is then used to continuously optimize the facilities. In this way, we want to identify possible weaknesses, improve effectiveness and contribute to a long-term and sustainable solution for rural water supply. In July, a team from KCF was able to visit the plants and ensure that they were back in operation in time for the beginning of the dry season.
If you would like to know more about how our solar water disinfection system works, how we continue the research and development work together with KCF in Tanzania despite Corona, or if you have any further questions, please take part in our online event in German language “SoWaDi introduces itself: Solar energy for clean water” on Thursday, 29.10. at 19:00! To get the link to the event, please write an E-Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have some exciting news from Tanzania that we would like to share with you. Our devices TZ03, TZ04, TZ05 and TZ06 are now nine months old, so it is time for a water test to ensure that the quality of the output water is still good. Unfortunately, only TZ03 and TZ04 have been tested so far. The other devices were covered when the test was carried out. Please make sure to follow this blog, we will definitely post the other results as well.
The results from TZ03 and TZ04 look very promising! Both devices use input water which is heavily contaminated with E. coli bacteria. After the treatment, no bacteria were found in the devices’ output water. This result was validated by the laboratory MUWSA (Moshi Urban Water Supply And Sanitation Authority). It means, that water treated by both devices is safe for everyday use. We are motivated by those results as they show us one more time that the SoWaDi-concept of treating water works, even over longer periods of time. The exact test results are posted in the picture-gallery above. If you have any questions regarding the testing, do not hesitate to contact us using the contact-sheet… 😉
Besides the negative test results, all devices are in a good shape! Minor repair jobs like changing the containers’ tap or cover were done, but all in all the devices mastered the rainy season with no problems.
Right now, the devices’ output is relatively low (an overview of the output from TZ04 is displayed in the picture-gallery above). Hopefully, the weather will get a little better, so we can see an increase in output. Let’s keep the fingers crossed!
After now more than three months since the project meetings have been switched to a virtual way, a long awaited meeting took place again on Friday the 17.07. All SoWaDi members who had time and were in the mood spent a very nice evening on the area of the device. The meeting was decoupled from the actual project meetings and should mainly serve to strengthen the group.
Also present were Steffen and Alex, who together with Sara made our devicethe center of their ADP (Advanced Design Project). In the past semester they have been working intensively on the question of which long-term data are usefuland how to optimize the measurement technology. On Friday they shared their work progress and findings with the entire group. It was very interesting and the three have done a great job in the last months! A separate blog entry on the details of their work is already being planned.
The coming together was very nice. Until the evening hours we had a picnic together and talked about all kinds of things. However, despite all the joy of the reunion, we also always made sure to wear masks and keep a safe distance. Even though the situation in Germany allows for more face-to-face meetings, we decided to continue to work together virtually. So far the regular meetings have worked well that way and each group continues to work very hard on its self-chosen work packages.
While we hope to meet again soon in person, we recognize the urgency to avoid accumulations in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones as much as possible!
Stay healthy and look forward to an early update from the ADP team!
During the last weeks we have received news about our devices from Tanzania and so we take the opportunity to share this news with all interested parties in the following blog entry.
The Kilimanjaro Childlight Foundation travelled with a small group to Malage VTC and Kidia to visit the six facilities and exchange information with the users. It turned out that currently only three of the six built devices are in operation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting school closures, the facilities of Kidia Primary and Secondary School are still not in operation, but this is expected to change with schools opening soon.
In addition, the weather in Tanzania is still very cloudy , as the rainy season has only recently ended. Therefore, the planned extraction of water samples could not take place, because the devices unfortunately do not provide any output without sunshine. For the same reason another device is still covered, but this one will be active again as soon as the weather allows it.
At the Malage VTC the devices are running as planned, which makes us very happy!
We hope that all SoWaDi participants are doing well according to the circumstances and we are looking forward to further feedback from Tanzania as soon as the devices are up and running again.
departing people are back in Germany for a month now. During this time a
lot has happened and we would like to give you a small update about our
current work as well as the situation in Tanzania and in Darmstadt with
this blog entry.
Our current work:
after the return of Rebecca, Jonas and Julius from Tanzania, the
follow-up of the departure started. This includes not only the viewing
of pictures, notes, etc., but also constant communication with our
project partner, the Kilimanjaro Childlight Foundation (KCF), and the
users of the units. Furthermore, the costs of the individual units are estimated and the interviews with the people on site are evaluated.
have established a support group that maintains contact with Tanzania
to collect feedback and the recording of the weekly sent measurement
data to maintain contact with Tanzania. The measurement data collected
in this way includes the daily water output of the 6 plants as well as
information on the weather. These weather data can be compared with the
data of an online database in the future and allow a more detailed
analysis of the output data.
the departure, minor design changes were also made to the unit, which
are now being discussed in the Performance Issues Theme Group and
included in the assembly instructions by the Instruction Group. Our goal is to include major design changes in the planned setup of the second test unit here in Darmstadt.
special focus is currently on measurement technology. Within the scope
of an Advanced Design Project (ADP), 5 students are working on a robust,
inexpensive and easy-to-implement measurement electronics, which will
be installed in our second test unit in summer. At
the same time, scales for characterizing the performance of the system
are to be determined. The ADP tendered for this purpose is supervised by
the Institute for Technical Thermodynamics at the TU Darmstadt.
Effects of the COVID 19 pandemic on our work:
course, the COVID 19 pandemic has a major impact on our work. In this
blog entry we would like to give you a short insight into the situation
in Tanzania. For this purpose, we have received insights into the
current life in Tanzania from Ichikael, our contact person at KCF, and
Gasiano, the headmaster of the Malage Vocational Training Center, where
the departure team has put the two units of 2017 back into operation
this year, which we would like to present to you here briefly.
Ichikael (Communication on the 1st of april):
has a son and also takes care of her nephew. Both of them have to stay
at home right now because the schools in Tanzania are closed. She takes
over the work of the teachers – unfortunately, the two little ones want
to go back to school despite all her efforts. Currently the question
arises whether the exams should also be written at home.
facilities such as markets and churches are still open, but mass events
have been cancelled. People who do not take the situation seriously are
particularly problematic. Many do not particularly restrict their
public life, hygienic protective measures, such as washing their hands,
are often not taken.
comparatively few people are in quarantine in Tanzania, the tension is
still noticeable. The infection figures from Europe are being followed
with great concern.
Gasiano (Communication on the 25th of march):
Gasiano describes the current situation as difficult. It is a pity that his school is closed to students; neverless he sees the situation positvely because of the still low infection figures. The teachers at his school continue to carry out their duties, such as maintaining the school or cultivating the school gardens. The government’s school closures are expected to continue until 17 April and will be closely monitored. If a school opens despite the governments‘ orders, the headmaster risks a permanent closure of the institution.
has five children. His daughter is studying in Xi’an, China and came
back to Tanzania in February because of COVID-19. The family is happy
that she is at home and everyone is healthy. Through various news
channels they are informed about the situation in other countries.
Especially the situation in Italy is followed with great concern.
are very happy that all users and contributors in Tanzania are doing
well according to the circumstances. Although public life is partly
restricted, this is the only way to slow down the spread of the virus.
The constant contact with the users on site is especially important in
some of our units are located on school grounds, some of them have been
put into standby mode. For this purpose, the absorber box is covered
with a plastic sheet that is impervious to light so that no components
are heated by the sun. At the moment three of the plants are in this
state. The remaining systems are still in use and measurement data is
sent to the support group on a weekly basis.
course, the way of working within the project group has also changed
over the last few weeks. Since everyone works in his home office,
alternatives for meetings and project group meetings had to be found.
For our meetings every second Tuesday we use a program for voice
conferences. There is a lot of communication via social media and
lectures can be presented via a special website.
In spite of all the technical helpers, we are looking forward to hours together again reunited in the university group house!
I’m Sara Konrad. At the end of this year’s journey, I’ll share a
different perspective from the back office. The back office has actively
supported the outgoers from a distance, but has also maintained the
normal project operations in Darmstadt.
I am 25 years old and am studying Mechanical Engineering and Energy Science and Engineering. Already since 2015 I have been working for Ingenieure ohne Grenzen in Darmstadt, but I started working for SoWaDi only two years later.
For a long time I was exclusively involved in the organisational work of the whole regional group, wrote newsletters, organised teambuilding events and coordinated the working media of the regional group. It was personally important to me to be involved in development cooperation. However, after two years, during which I was purely involved in organisational work, I wanted to get into a project and decided to join SoWaDi. Especially in the project SoWaDi it is very well possible to enable many people to have a better life situation by improving the water supply. In SoWaDi I had the feeling to be able to use my knowledge from my studies in the best possible way.
At the beginning of my project work the outgoing team of 2017 had already been back from Tanzania for a few months and the phase of follow-up work was in full swing, so that plant optimisations resulting from the journey were tackled. The trip to Tanzania had shown that the plant could be optimized at some points in order to contribute to higher efficiency and robustness and to simplify the distribution. My task was to deal with the glass breakages that occurred in Tanzania. One of the results was that the highly stressed lower glass pane was divided into several small glass sheets.
technical challenges of SoWaDi it was not possible for a long time to
find a location for a test plant in Germany which would have allowed us
to have the plant in operation for more than six weeks. Therefore I was
very happy that we finally found a location in early 2019 and a few
months later we could build a plant at the TU Darmstadt which will be
there for at least 3 years. This enables us to test changes in practice
and collect long-term data.
the skills I have acquired through the engineering work, I have learned
a lot about working together and efficiently in large groups. Since
October 2018 I have been the contact person of SoWaDi and have learned a
lot about successful group management and organisation and was able to
use the already acquired skills from my IOG beginning time.
Furthermore, this work has made me much more sensitive when it comes to intercultural communication and development cooperation. Also the attendance of some seminars for further education of Engineers without Borders has contributed to this. Through this work I have gained a completely different perspective on topics such as everyday discrimination and racism.
the outgoing team was working in Tanzania, it was my job to support
them as much as possible and to derive tasks that the back office can
take over for them. This way they could concentrate fully on their tasks
on site, while I always knew what was coming up for them and was
involved in the important decisions.
activities of our back office team were mainly of an organizational
nature: we wrote the blog entries and donation reports, answered
questions from the outbound team and in doing so, promoted the long-term
orientation of the project.
addition, we had enough time during to bring in the communication
between us as SoWaDi team in Darmstadt and the users of the facilities.
The nice thing about it was to see that not only we could give input to
the people on site, but also the dedicated users gave us suggestions for
improvement of our work, so that we are already a well-rehearsed team
with most of the users. This was a very important sign, which reflects
the good course of the departure and hopefully is an example of how
things will go when the outgoing team is back in Darmstadt.
am also particularly pleased that the project will continue in Germany.
The test phase is also entering the next round here in Germany: In
cooperation with the Institute for Technical Thermodynamics at the TU
Darmstadt, we want to further optimize our measurement technology
concept to increase the efficiency of the system. A twin is to join the
plant, which is already here in Darmstadt, at the beginning of summer.
The idea is that the improvements we will be making to the twin plant
will not only be implemented even faster, but above all we will be able
to evaluate them directly in comparison with the standard plant.
Last week, the departure team had important meetings with the project partner, which had to be conducted directly with the responsible persons on site. These meetings were extremely important, so that the Kilimanjaro Childlight Foundation can be the interface between us and the users in the future, should there be any problems with the installations or with the communication among each other.
On Wednesday 04.03.2020 Jonas, Julius and Rebecca started their journey home with a heavy heart and arrived safely in Germany on Thursday morning.
that they have left the country, the first thing to do is to do some
follow-up work so that no valuable knowledge is lost. There have been a
lot of exciting discussions on the subject of the distribution of the
plant and we have to continuously process the data we constantly receive
from the users.
the immediate follow-up is complete, the biggest challenge for the team
will be to crystallize the other essential project tasks and to focus
on the newly set goals. These will certainly include, among other
things, the technical challenges that arose during the construction of
the six plants, which the outgoing team will report on in detail in the
in all, I am extremely pleased that the departure went well despite
some minor challenges. We can be really satisfied and proud, the long
preparation was worth it. An extraordinary amount was achieved, not only
by the outgoing team and by us in the back office, but also by the
people on site, most of whom we did not even know before leaving. The
fact that the feedback from working together on site was always positive
was a welcome reward for the last months of intensive preparation.
We realize how important it is to continue working on our project. Not only because we ourselves are fascinated by it, but also because the local people see the necessity of the plants and their advantages over existing methods of water treatment. The problem of the water situation is and will continue to be topical in many regions of the world and for all these people it is worthwhile to further revise the plant and to optimise dissemination strategies so that as many people as possible can benefit from it.