Mudders Saving The World

Monday, July 8, 2013 by James

A few years back a Mudder got involved with an effort to bring renewable power to remote, off-grid communities in Costa Rica. That project continues, and I was a member of the five person team to return to Talamanca, Costa Rica this past June. “Micro hydroelectric turbines” is the term to know. Small, water-driven turbines to generate electrical power on the scale of 1kW or less. Professor Hightower, an engineering professor specializing in material science and batteries, was the faculty advisor for two sophomore and two senior engineering students. We are partnered with a local NGO that works to bring solar energy, education, and other resources to the region. After arriving in San Jose, the capital city, we took a six hour car ride to the province of Limon, near the Caribbean sea. In a small town called Suretka we loaded our gear into motorized canoes and took a boat ride to Mojoncito, an even smaller town in Talamanca.


Then we boarded a bus that drove through mud and puddles deep enough to keep a herd of pigs happy for a life time (There were a lot of pigs in Mojoncito).


We stayed up late making some final tweaks to our turbine designs and monitoring system. The idea behind the monitoring system was to take water velocity data from the pipe in the stream that would drive the yet-to-be-installed turbine.


We also had the opportunity to teach some of the local residents some of the basics of electrical circuits, magnetism, and motors. Professor Hightower, on the left in the picture below, almost always wears a hat.


Sunhwi looks like a brilliant teacher in this photo. Fortunately, the photo doesn’t lie.


Later in the week we took a truck to Swakbri, where there is a school, several houses, and a mountain stream.


Some of the plumbing and infrastructure needed to be cleaned and maintained, but generally worked well.


We installed a mesh filter on one of the pipes that fed water to the school and left an Arduino-based monitoring system there to take water velocity data. This data will help us design the turbine that we will install upon returning in January 2014.


Here is the whole team. Costa Rica – Pura Vida!