A Treadle Pump for Rural Farmers – 2009, Guatemala
Rural farmers in many parts of the world have two seasons – one growing season and one dry season. During dry season which is about half the year, they can’t grow crops. Moreover during the growing season they are at the mercy of the weather. A drought of a few weeks can ruin their crops and wipe out family finances. If rural farmers could have greater control over the amount of water that reaches their crops they could triple their income and afford to send their children to school.
To design an easy to build and maintain human powered pump, such as a treadle pump.
The treadle pump is a human-powered irrigation device that pumps water up from a well. The pumping action comes from stepping up and down on treadles which drive pistons. Treadle pumps look a lot like a stair-step machine you might see at the gym. They pump groundwater to the surface powered by the large muscles in your legs. Treadle pumps allow farmers to supplement rain-fed irrigation. Farmers can raise crops in two growing seasons per year, and they can grow higher value crops on their small plots of land.
A group of BLUELab students from the University of Michigan designed and prototyped a treadle pump at our shared workshop space in Guatemala. Due to unprecedented interest in the design we worked with a team of students from Michigan State University to update the design in 2013. The designs have been downloaded over 3,500 times from the ATC website.
More Information: Treadle Pump
Impact: Thousands of people around the globe have built treadle pumps based in part on our designs.
Solar Vaccine Refrigerator
In rural parts of Africa and Asia vaccines that need to be kept cold spoil due to a lack of refrigeration. The problem is that a large number of people live in remote places that lack electricity. Sometimes vaccines are carried for days before they can be administered. Keeping vaccines cold for such a long time is nearly impossible. This leads to vaccine spoilage that costs billions of U.S. dollars each year and negatively impacts millions of lives.
The Appropriate Technology Collaborative worked with Michigan State University to design a refrigerator that can be built out of locally available materials almost anywhere on the planet. Our Solar Vaccine Refrigerator (SVR) does not use electricity of any kind. It has no moving parts yet when you put it in sunlight it starts a refrigeration cycle.
In 2009 a team of Engineering Students from Michigan State University traveled to the ATC shared Workshop space in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. They built a Solar Vaccine Refrigerator (SVR) from parts that are easy to find anywhere in the world. The refrigerator does not use electricity, it does not have any moving parts, you simply place it in the sun and it chills or freezes things. A very remarkable machine.
The MSU / ATC refrigerator drawings are available online, for free, for anyone anywhere in the world to build themselves. The SVR drawings have been downloaded over 4,000 times and our clients report serving millions of people with the design.
More Information: Solar Vaccine Refrigerator
Impact: For some of our designs, like the solar vaccine refrigerator, we don’t have reliable data. But we do receive very nice emails emails stating “thank you for saving millions of lives” and other kind expressions. We can’t use anecdotal comments in grant applications because we don’t have actual field data to back it up.
The Solar Vaccine Refrigerator (SVR) has been downloaded over 4,000 times and we know it is in use in several countries. It is even being used to keep fish cold in Africa and to keep milk cold in the high mountains of Peru, but real data is hard to collect.
Small Scale Solar:
We started work on small scale solar projects to replace candles and kerosene lamps back in 2007. We have learned a lot about what works, what people want and how people can pay for low cost solar solutions.
Many people in low-income countries–over 1.6 billion people–live without access to electricity. Another billion people live with unreliable access to power. This creates a web of problems that we set out to solve with this project.
Living without reliable lighting limits the productivity of nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Basic activities such as cleaning, reading, schoolwork, and household business cannot be done in the dark. In Africa the lack of reliable lighting is growing worse with population growing faster than electrification, a condition that leads to a permanent marginalization of both rural and urban poor.
The great majority of people with no or erratic electricity illuminate their homes and businesses with fuel-based kerosene lamps, which creates another set of inter-related problems.
Health Impact: The health implications of fuel-based lighting are two fold: chronic illness due to indoor air pollution and risk of injury due to the flammable nature of the fuels used.
Kerosene lamps emit fine particles of Black Carbon, or soot. These particles are a major source of indoor air pollution because they quickly become lodged in the bronchial system and can result in chronic disease and death. Chronic pulmonary disease is a leading cause of early death in developing countries primarily due to poor indoor air quality.The World Health Organization has determined that individuals breathing kerosene fumes and soot inhale the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
In addition to giving off toxic fumes, kerosene lamps are dangerous! A study conducted in Irrua, Nigeria showed that more than 50% of burn victims brought into hospitals were victims of fires caused by overturned or exploding kerosene lamps.
Environmental Impact: Kerosene lamps produce more greenhouse gasses per unit of illumination than any other common light source. The environmental effect of 1.6 billion people using kerosene fuel and candles contributes to global carbon emissions at a rate of 100-150 million tons per year. Beyond CO2 emissions, incomplete combustion of kerosene leads to the release of soot or Black Carbon, which also contributes to global warming and poor indoor air quality.
Economic Impact: The light intensity produced by kerosene lamps is inferior to electric light, but kerosene lighting is more expensive per unit of light than what we pay in the developed world. Several studies in developing countries show that access to proper lighting (of high enough illumination to enable reading and doing household and business-related activities) has significant positive impact on productivity broadly and income-generating activity specifically.
We established The Appropriate Technology Collaborative (ATC) a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2008 in order to design technologies and create programs that improve the quality of life and provide opportunity for the world’s poorest people. Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and San Marcos Guatemala ATC has designed unique affordable solar lighting solutions that cost less than what people are now spending on candles and kerosene lamps to see at night.
More Information: Mayan Power and Light
Impact: We have started one solar business that serves about 1,000 people per year. In 2015 – 2016 we will be starting two more solar businesses that will eventually serve about the same number of people per year. In 2016 ATC has been invited by other NGOs to help start solar businesses in other countries.
Water for Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan:
Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan is a community of some 4,000 residents and 2,000 additional residents who live in nearby villages. All of these people live 10,000 ft above sea level between the cities of Antigua and Quetzaltenango. Devastated by a mudslide in 1998, the community was relocated 10 kilometers from its original location. After rebuilding its infrastructure, the town has a reliable source of most basic necessities such as electricity and transportation, but lacks a consistent supply of water. Water is only available for thirty (30) minutes per day, and during the dry season sometimes there is no water at all. Lack of water is constraining the daily livelihoods of inhabitants. Without a sufficient source of water, the community cannot guarantee water for its citizens’ daily needs such as cooking and sanitation.
ATC, Engineers Without Borders, Rutgers, and engineers from Xela Teco worked closely with the local Water Committee and the Municipality of Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan to improve the water supply. The project took 5 years to complete. Water now flows to all households and the system of pumps and storage tanks is well maintained by local talent.
Impact: We now serve water to 6,000 people per day in Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan. Note: we couldn’t do this without our collaborative partners, Rutgers University, the Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan water committee, and engineers Jose Ordonez and Carlos Alvarez.
Large Scale Solar:
Early on we had great success with small scale solar for individual households. (In this case we chose 20 watts and below as small scale solar) Many people requested ATC to provide larger scale solar for schools, community centers, cooperatives and medical facilities. We created a program to teach solar to volunteers from the United States and other developed countries along side local solar engineers and technicians. Volunteer solar projects work in a manner like Habitat for Humanity. Volunteers pay for some of the solar hardware and local recipients pay with their labor, food, transportation and sometimes local funds.
More Information on Volunteer Solar: Volunteer Solar and Natural Building
Impact: Our large scale solar projects provide light and emergency back up power to three schools that serve hundreds of children every day. Through our collaboration with Mayan Power and Light we have helped many graduates of the MPL program learn about large scale solar.
The use of 3-stone fires and traditional wood stoves is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems. Globally, three billion people use wood, charcoal or dung fired stoves every day to cook. These simple stoves and fires for cooking cause serious environmental and health problems for the world’s poor. According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from cooking kills over 4 million people per year and sickens millions more, including the youngest of us who breathe smoke while swaddled to their mothers.
However, safe, durable, and affordable clean stoves exist, moreover they can be designed to meet the cultural expectations of different regions world-wide. It is our challenge to perfect cooking technology and create clean stoves that fit local cultural norms that will reduce fuel consumption, save our forests and save the children who breath ambient household smoke.
Impact: We are creating a simple kit where people can purchase the materials necessary to create a clean burning stove for much less than what clean cookstoves currently sell for on the market. With pre-fabricated pieces the stove should assemble quickly and give years of service.
Thermo Electric Generators
Many households that purchase clean burning wood stoves still lack electricity to power lights in the evenings, listen to the radio and charge cell phones.
We realized that the greatest concentration of energy in a rural home is the waste heat produced by a wood stove (aproximately 2000 watts) Using simple thermo-electric chips we can harness a small amount of the waste heat and convert it into electricity. Thermo-electric technology compliments solar power. Even on rainy days people cook, the stove in a typical rural household burns fuel for 3.5 – 4 hours per day. Enough to run a bright light.
Impact: This is still in the early testing phase.
The Re-Gen is a 100% recycled generator made from recycled microwave oven parts and recycled disk breaks and wheel hubs from scrapped cars. The goal is to make a generator that can create a constant 1,000 watts , 24 hours per day using micro-hydro power.
Technologies such as generators are most often made overseas from where they are used. In poor countries people lack the basic materials necessary to build generators, thus generators are expensive and the important work of creating technology is outsourced.
Build a robust, durable and inexpensive generator from materials that can be found in most countries on the planet.
ATC, working with Dr. George Albercook, created a generator that is powerful, inexpensive and easy to use. The 99% of the ReGen is made from recycled microwave oven parts and recycled automotive wheel parts. All moving parts rely on automotive bearings and thus are unlikely to wear out when used as a generator.
The ReGen is still in our prototype and testing program. Drawings and video will be made available soon.
Mayan Power and Light
(This page is under construction)
When we started teaching the enrichment class “Circuits and Solar” over 90% of the enrolled students were young men. We asked if young Mayan women would be interested in our technical class and the answer surprised us. Yes young Mayan women were very interested in the class but girls don’t take technical classes with boys after about the age of 12. (!)
Without going into the sociology of the Mayan teen mind, we decided to offer the class to young women. It quickly became very popular with a waiting list for next year. The women asked if they could get jobs in solar power and thus we began our “Mayan Power and Light” program. We teach about electricity, circuits and solar power, provide a wood shop class where women learn how to use carpentry tools, and we provide business incubation services to women who want to start clean-tech businesses.
- Volunteer Travel
In many countries in Latin America, the Carribbean and Africa, there are seasons where fruit and fall off the trees and spoil due to lack of an affordable way of preserving foods. In other seasons families lack the essential nutrients for family and infant health. If only the abundance of fruit could be preserved and consumed throughout the year. This is especially important in the first 1,000 days of life where children need complex nutrients for body and brain development.
A food dehydrator that can be built for $50.00 that uses thermal mass to store heat so it can dehydrate food 24 hours per day when needed.
This project is in development. We will have preliminary drawings available in 2015, final drawings and photographs will be available in 2016.
- Woven Wind
- Plastic Recycling
- Extremely Affordable House
- Affordable Insulation
 World Bank “Solar Lighting for the Base of the Pyramid – Overview of an Emerging Market” (2010): 14
 Foster, Robert. “Light Emitting Diodes for Off-Grid Homes.” Sandia National Laboratories (2005): 2-3.
 Lights for Life (2010)
 Dongo, Andrew E. “A five-year review of burn injuries in Irrua” BMC Health Services Research (2007)
 Mills, Evan. “The Specter of Fuel-Based Lighting.” Science 308, no. 5726 (2005): 3-4.
 World Bank (2010)