Milestone Posts

Solar charcoal, cashew nuts process and new evolutions

Posted Monday 20 May 2019 by Lorin Symington.

Prototyping: beautiful (sometimes frustrating) and creative (sometimes repetitive trial and error iteration) prototyping! Building innovative new solutions to problems presented to us by our partner and their stakeholders on the ground.

We’re in a very interesting phase here on the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao, Philippines. We’ve built two hybrid oven/roasters, very similar to those we’ve deployed in Kenya, though with a few notable improvements to stability and durability around the light window and the door.

We’re currently developing two new applications for making charcoal and removing Cashew Nut Shell Liquid (CNSL). Below, a series of pictures showing various rough prototypes, stakeholder context and some fun around the workshop. Enjoy.

Coconuts:

Tropical paradise that it is, The Philippines has an abundance of coconuts. The hard shell of the coconut is on par with many hardwoods in terms of energy density and it is often converted into charcoal by burning it in an oxygen deprived environment (pyrolysis).

Above, an ‘improved’ steel drum charcoal kiln. Improved is a relative term… this is more efficient than building a great big fire and then dousing it with water or smothering it with dirt or sand, as is done in many places around the world. How would you like a smoky charcoal business in your neighbourhood? My initial calculations indicate 6kg of coconut shell makes 1kg of coconut shell charcoal, which is in line with UN averages for cottage industry charcoal making.

Some of the team during the second test of our coconut charcoal maker, after we tested it without insulation to get a baseline. This application is particularly exciting for me because this is a way to displace a huge amount of dirty emissions and increase the earning potential for coconut farmers. No longer will they burn up most of their coconut shells to get bit of charcoal. This application might triple the income from coconut shell byproducts for small farmers.

A very successful test run. 90% of the coconut shells were converted to charcoal, with only the shells at the bottom of the drum remaining uncarbonized. We’ll solve that by diverting the flammable gas that emerges from the chimney to the bottom of the drum.

A surprisingly sharp dividing line between converted and unconverted charcoal.

Cashews:

The Philippines is one of the major cashew producers in the world, especially considering the size of the country. If you’ve ever wondered why cashews are so expensive it is because they are a very weird nut whose processing must be very careful. The cashew nut grows on the bottom of the fruit of the cashew tree. Inside the shell, between the outer shell and the edible kernel on the inside is a dense spongy pith, filled with a remarkable cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL). The liquid is highly acidic, flammable and quite toxic!

It is a raw material of multiple uses in developing drugs, antioxidants, fungicides, and biomaterials. It is used in tropical folk medicine and for antitermite treatment of timber. CNSL may be used as a resin for carbon composite products and as petrochemical substitute, etc. Wikipedia
As such, CNSL has a value on par with refined petroleum products, making it a potentially interesting source of income.

Traditional cottage industry processing involves heating the cashew nuts in a perforated pan on an open flame. Once they are sufficiently heated, they burst, and the CNSL spews forth and everything catches fire. They’re removed from the fire, dumped on the ground and doused with collected rainwater.

Cashew processing is a family affair. Once the cashews are cooled, the women crack them open and extract the kernel. The shells and the fluid are all the fuel the fire needs to burn and smoke like crazy all day long. The smoke is acrid and heavy and wafts across the neighbourhood, to the detriment of the health of all involved.

First prototype… steel mesh on square tube - aka what happens when you stick the nuts in the focal point? They burst! There’s no fire. There’s less smoke. However, you need to stand in the sun constantly waving this contraption. Also, the focal point is so hot that the CNSL on side facing the sun bursts out, but on the sides the liquid remains (think about how much solar energy you get at sunset versus noon).

It might not be ideal for CNSL removal but it makes a great fish frier!

How to get even roasting? Build a steel mesh drum, put it in a box with a window and fire away! However, the bursting of the liquid from the shell coats the glass, which is not sustainable.

We’ve made a few more prototypes and we’re zeroing in on a good design… a design where we’ll replace young Jerson here with a solar panel and a motor.

The new faces you see are some of the students from the University of Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) who are doing their summer internship with us, some of whom will continue on to quantify certain aspects of GoSol’s solar tech and assist with data collection and validation of results reported by CarbonCycle and the end users.

Initial tests on the rooftop of the library on USTP’s Cagayan de Oro campus.

The great news is that the ladies and gentlemen from the cashew cooperative we’re dealing with say that the nuts are of a high quality, that the liquid doesn’t get forced deeper into the nut and contaminate the kernel, which often happens with the open fire frying method, meaning they must sell those nuts at a discount. They’re excited to receive training on the SOL5 and integrate it to their production.

Stay tuned, because that’s the next phase of the project!


Why GoSol

Posted Friday 12 April 2019 by Eerik Wissenz.

This is a key reading to understand our work and our vision. This text is a short version of a much longer text that unpacks all the arguments with calculations and sources. However, since climate change is accelerating, we feel it is better to publish and share this version in the meantime. Please send any comments or feedback to the author: eerik@gosol.solar.

 

Context

Our organization is at a critical juncture of requiring capital to expand. Our team has used all vital energy stores to get to this point – doing a lot with a little, which in the past was often times a useful context to develop the lowest capital technology possible that still has high power, ease of use and a short ROI – but now that this vital energy is consumed there is no fallback position, and we find it unlikely another group will recreate our work as effectively in the time we have to make the highest impact on climate change, which is now.

 

Failure to raise the right kind of capital from organizations that really want to push the maximum impact the technology can deliver, though would not be catastrophic as business would still maximize profits and the technology would still “get out there” slower, but more importantly several opportunities for truly high-leverage actions may be missed.

 

This essay is not for people who are skeptical that it is ever rational to consider other things than profit, nor for people who believe the climate crisis isn’t time sensitive and will just work itself out, or that believe there isn’t anyway much that can be done about it.

 

This essay is for people who are not only extremely concerned to do something about climate change but also consider the question of what is “the most we can do” in the time we have – rather than “what fulfils a minimum sense of doing something”. In other words, we see a difference between having “some” impact and having the impact needed to solve the problem.

 

Furthermore, this essay is for people who believe the climate crisis has no satisfactory solution without also solving poverty; that we have an ethical responsibility to both the earth and the people that do not benefit from the existing global infrastructure and are most vulnerable to its effects – not to mention that climate change may simply make nearly everyone we know today poor, by today’s standards of comfort, and so a solution that works in the context of poverty may ultimately be the only game plan possible.

 

Where We Are

Currently we have successfully piloted in East Africa, we have our first clients, an innovative software for industry and we have completed the last piece of the puzzle, which was to develop and pilot an education package that can be deployed in low income regions. Education is the key for rapid expansion in low-income regions; first, to learn how to effectively use and maintain the solar machines, second to develop the business and ecosystem skills needed to create the most value possible with the technology, and third for fabricating the technology locally.

 

 

The Implications of Cheap, Cost-Effective Solar Thermal

Although it is generally recognized that cheaper electricity is great and a big driver of economic development, it is, for whatever reason, usually not recognized that cheaper thermal energy has the same benefits for the same reasons, just for a different set of applications.

 

In addition to the nearly 3 billion people burning biomass for daily thermal (heat) needs, nearly all industrial production requires thermal inputs at various stages of material transformation. Roughly half of energy consumed in industry is for heating processes between 100° and 250°C.

 

Currently, the main limiting factor for using solar thermal energy in industry, as it is today, is that production is organized in large urban centers where land is expensive, installing any large equipment at all in a industrial area requires various heavy leveling and ground work, and large capital investment would be needed to retrofit solar thermal to existing complex fabrication systems (that were not built with solar thermal in mind), and, on-top of this, the existing air pollution of fossil based thermal processes and electricity production reduces the effectiveness of solar thermal devices by blocking out the sun and depositing particles on the solar collection surfaces.

 

Keep in mind that to run a large factory that consumes many megawatts of thermal energy, hectares of solar reflectors would be required which is far larger than the area of factory typically occupies. Unlike electricity, thermal energy cannot be transported long distances, so piping thermal energy from far outside the city where land is inexpensive is not viable (the thermal energy would need to be converted to either electricity or a chemical fuel, completely eliminating the efficiency and capital cost advantages of using the thermal energy directly for thermal processes).

 

Although "plugging in" solar thermal energy to today’s infrastructure is economic only in niche areas, production will ultimately follow the cheapest source of energy available, regardless of the sunk costs of the existing system.

 

In small farming and rural areas, the cost of land to place solar thermal machines is less a factor and there is plenty of space to run thermal processes, the cost of setup does not require costly commissioning or earth work, and air is usually cleaner (so more light reaches the surface and mirrors get less dirty). Furthermore, there is agricultural activity already existing with a large potential for added value thermal processing with thermal energy and sell higher-value transformed version of existing agricultural product. Examples are solar roasting, dehydration, baking and other thermal food processing as we have piloted in East Africa, South East Asia and South America.

 

By capturing this value added, skills and income will increase, which is setting the stage for larger and higher temperature solar thermal devices that can power productive industries including ceramics, textiles, and paper. The skills and capital of this second phase of development lays the foundation for powering high-thermal temperature process, including metal works and silicon.

 

Mitigation benefits

Emission displacement

Displacing a large amount of thermal energy industries to rural areas would significantly reduce embodied carbon emissions in exports to rich countries. A large component of global production today is based on thermal energy supplied by coal, either directly or through electricity when it is cheaper to burn the coal close to mining and transport the energy with electricity lines rather than trains.

 

This entire component of global emissions today can be shifted to solar thermal technological ecosystems that can emerge in low-income rural regions.

 

Reversing fuel based deforestation

With a cheaper source of thermal energy available, a balance can be created between using solar thermal devices and collecting and burning biomass. If biomass becomes farther away to collect or increases in price, it motivates reorganizing life and production to use a higher percentage of solar thermal energy (i.e. wait for the sun to be available for the tasks in question).

 

As solar thermal energy becomes cheaper, the distance / price threshold of biomass fuel changes proportionally.

 

Furthermore, what biomass is consumed can be converted to charcoal using excess solar thermal energy when the sun is shining. This is a way to store excess solar energy in the added value to the charcoal making process.

 

Currently, charcoal is often made in very inefficient “smothered mounds”. The highest cost-component of supplying a city with biomass fuel is the transport of the fuel from source points to sale points. This bottleneck of capital and fuel costs for trucks, motivates transporting as much fuel value as possible with each truck trip. Since charcoal has higher energy density than the source wood, fuel suppliers have a high motivation to transport only charcoal, converting the wood source to charcoal at the source points. However, since all charcoal suppliers can increase price as resources are reduced, there is no fundamental motivation to convert the wood to charcoal in an efficient way, and so even more wood is consumed than needed.

 

Through the above dynamic of the availability of cheap solar thermal energy pressuring fuel costs down, reforestation can re-encroach on where people are living. With available biomass and available solar energy, the conversion of biomass for charcoal for evening and and cloudy periods becomes much more efficient. Furthermore, with solar thermal charcoal conversion, the oils, esters and other evaporates of the biomass can be condensed and, depending on the plant, can have significant value, such as resins.

 

Second order mitigation

As this solar thermal productive system becomes more efficient, easier to use, at some point it becomes competitive as well in higher and higher income regions for the supply of most thermal energy based goods.

 

Since solar energy is available in so many places at little cost, but transportation always has a cost, once the ease of deploying solar thermal technology decreases below a certain threshold it is simply cheaper to start to produce goods locally instead of transporting/importing it into the region.

 

This is in contrast to fossil based production, where is it nearly always more efficient to produce at central fossil-complex locations and transport, using fossil energy, end goods to farther away markets.

 

Cheap enough solar thermal energy would reverse the principle that centralization is a more effective mode of production for a wide range of good. (The reason as to why this is a progressive process of becoming cost effective in wealthier regions is because labour automation is a requirement as well as sufficient synergy of a wide range of productive applications; whereas, these factors are not required in the roughly two thirds of the world that are low-income regions where labour costs are low, and so maintenance is not a large barrier, and furthermore there are smaller scale farmers that can easily add value to produce they already grow.)

 

This expansion of thermal production systems to higher and higher income regions, ultimately results in much smaller transport distances for a wide range of goods, further displacing fossil consumption currently needed to ship centrally produced goods.

 

Adaptation

General adaptive benefits

Increase in income is one of the key factors that can radically increase resilience to disaster, whether a bad growing season, prolonged drought or a massive storm.</p>

 

With a solar thermal energy device with very short payback that is easy to maintain, people can increase their income even if displacement is an eventual certainty.

 

Low-capital solar thermal devices that have a high ROI, can furthermore be simply rebuilt wherever people are displaced to by climate or other events, and so the skill keeps its value after displacement as well.

 

Since solar thermal devices are by nature decentralized and do not require a grid for efficient use (thermal energy cannot be transported large distances), solar thermal devices are largely immune to grid and other regional infrastructure collapse.

 

This is particularly relevant in low-income regions where grids are already very unstable, vulnerable to disruption and difficult to rebuild post-disaster, but it is also relevant in higher income regions.

 

Nearly all regions are vulnerable to grid disruptions of electricity and other fuels, and so the pre-positioning of low-cost and high-power solar thermal devices can significantly help in natural disasters in many high income regions as well.

 

Refugee benefits

Currently, refugee camps are often placed on marginal land that is already vulnerable to desertification and there is no way to stop people from collecting biomass if it is the only productive activity available. In parallel, NGOs must truck in large amounts of fuel in various forms to run the camps and settlements.

 

This situation is ideal for the benefits of low-cost, high temperature and locally built solar thermal devices, as building and maintaining the concentrators also provides employment and meaning to refugees, along with income and skills building benefits.

 

Education

In general, renewable energy is unlike seasonal agriculture or trading. Even with the short payback period of our product, renewable energy is a business where the investment in capital and learning is upfront and the value is generated over time. This requires sufficient business skills to plan and operate on the required time-frame, otherwise no net value is generated. Where these skills are lacking, education and entrepreneur incubation programs are critical for the deployment of the technology.

 

Although using the GoSol technology is intuitive and training on basic gestures and maintenance is fairly short, a rich educational context is required to fully motivate and empower new solar entrepreneurs.

 

Low-cost, locally-built, and high-temperature solar concentrators are also ideal for the education setting. Students can help build and / or assemble the technology and help operate and maintain it.

Furthermore, there are a lot of engineering, physics and other principles embodied in the technology and its use provides many teaching opportunities for diverse subject matters. In particular, social and environmental problems can be taught with a “solutions attached” approach which is more engaging.

 

Schools in low-income rural areas often cook meals and require purchasing fuel for this activity, and therefore there is also a direct return on investment from the use of the technology.

 

Furthermore, in low-income regions many of the applications of the technology may be unfamiliar and cannot be learned in a simple training. For instance, many of the students that participated in our baking course had never baked before, because ovens are not a common thing in their region.

 

In low-income regions, a rich and engaging education training must accompany the technology, and we have developed and already started this in Uganda within the context of the Smartup Factory program with Plan International.

 

Open Source

Since the technology can be built simultaneously all over the world and furthermore every new thermal application adds value to the existing ecosystem, the strategy with the maximum impact potential is to open source high quality engineering and educational material.

 

Reaching high ROI for solar thermal involves optimizing many factors. Although once a design is developed, it can be copied easily, developing a new optimized design is not trivial but requires software algorithms to simulate the physics and economics of the reflector, application, and operational constraints. This is further complicated by environmental, social and economic conditions changing from place to place, not to mention different materials and common tooling and fabrication methods.

 

We have accumulated a significant amount of software, prototyping and field experience that is not easy to recreate. The best starting point for any innovator who wants to develop a new application or to re-optimize an existing application and configuration for different conditions, is the full and complete documentation of the knowledge we have now.

 

With fully open sourcing the knowledge, thousands of innovators can be directly empowered as well as every educator and entrepreneur. This collective potential completely dwarfs the capabilities of a single organization.

 

Conclusion

Given the cost of deploying the GoSol technology relative the potential benefits, it is a high leverage, high growth-rate, impact potential on mitigation, adaptation and sustainable income generation in general.

Eerik Wissenz - April 2019


Announcing GoSol - UC Berkeley MDP Collaboration

Posted Friday 15 February 2019 by Urs Riggenbach.

We are happy to announce the start of a collaboration with the MDP program at UC Berkeley, California.

UC Berkeley’s Master of Development Practice (MDP) equips the next generation of professionals with the knowledge, skills and interdisciplinary experience needed for sustainable development in the direction of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

GoSol’s work has been documented to impact 7 SDGs and our experience and unique model make for a great collaboration case with the master students interested in both theoretical and hands-on experiential learning.

Our cooperation will focus on the development of impact measurement and modeling methodologies and systems. As GoSol’s impact scales, so do the challenges of tracking and modeling the impact of our technology, products and projects.

We’re excited about the cooperation start and look forward to start engaging the students very soon.

More about the MDP program: https://mdp.berkeley.edu/


Starting in the Philippines with Carbon Cycle

Posted mercredi 6 février 2019 by Eva Wissenz.

All the team is very happy to announce our new project in the Philippines with CarbonCycle, a recycling company and a renewable energy startup based in Cagayan de Oro City.

Mr Dale Franco Llentic, CEO and founder of Carbon Cycle, has followed our work for the past 3 years and decided to start a project for three communities processing cashew nuts, coconuts and soya. For example, the Mindagat Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative below is roasting soya and produces soya powder for the local market.

At Mindagat Cooperative, Malitbog, Philippines. They roast soya and produce soya powder.

Together with GoSol, CarbonCycle is applying solar thermal technologies to agrifood processing to enhance the quality of life of the farming communities of the Philippines. This project will demonstrate the techno-economic feasibility of solar thermal technologies for processing agricultural products in agricultural communities.

In September 2018, Carbon Cycle won a BPI SINAG award for their social work. The Bank of the Philippines Islands is supporting 10 social entrepreneurs. More can be read about Carbon Cycle journey here.

Mr. Llentic of CarbonCycle receiving the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Sinag Awards 2018.

We are very excited to start next month and blog posts and video clips will be posted on the project page, so stay tuned !


7 Sustainable Development Goals made real for Eva Nangira, a young solar entrepreneur in Uganda

Posted Thursday 20 December 2018 by Lorin Symington.

We’d like to introduce you to Eva Nangira, one of the youth mentors at the SmartUp Factory Tororo Hub. Eva is a very attentive student and really grasps the significance of our SOL5 oven. In this short video, she describes the impact that the SOL5 oven is having on her life.

Eva focuses on the impact that this business will have on her and the other young women being trained. Women in Uganda face serious challenges when they enter the workforce and it is our hope that along with SmartUp Factory and Plan International, we can empower many more women to become sustainable self employed.

It’s very clear that when you want to do things, you have positivity and an entrepreneurial mindset, the access to energy, to a clean and powerful energy source, is really key. We are so grateful because thanks to entrepreneurs like Eva and all the groups from Kenya and Tanzania, we are proving that there is an appropriate clean energy solution for all these people that are not in developed economies. It is more or less expected that developing countries will develop and grow like Western countries have, but here at GoSol.solar we believe that solutions must be adapted to their reality, and their reality is: tons of sun that they can harvest to be free from fossil fuels and reduce deforestation.

SOL5 replaces fire wood, charcoal, LPG and poor electric grids to power activities during all the sunny season. During the rainy season, the entrepreneurs have to use a mix which is fine because they made savings the rest of the year and they can afford it.

 

The Sustainable Development Goals

Solar thermal energy is accessible for all and once widely implemented, will have dramatic and far reaching effects on our world. The Sustainable Development Goals have been established by the UN for the 2030 Agenda. The 17 SDG’s are the pillars of a new society, based on sustainable development for all.

Our Concentrated Solar Power solution is directly impacting 7 of these goals and affects some others.

Goal 1 End Poverty ​Universal access to solar thermal energy will create new economic opportunities for millions of people in food processing. Energy plays a key role in breaking the poverty trap; when people use clean solar energy that is locally built they can process food and create products with added value.

Goal 5 ​Gender Equality ​By empowering women and girls with access to free, clean solar energy, they have more time to go to school and engage in meaningful income generating activities instead of chopping wood. They’ll also benefit from better health due to reduced exposure to toxic smoke.

Goal 7 Affordable and Clean Energy ​Solar energy is one of the cleanest and most cost effective sources of energy. GoSol solar thermal technology has a return on investment of 18 months.

Goal 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth ​GoSol technology promotes decent work conditions due to the elimination of harmful pollution from burning biomass and enhances economic growth by balancing fossil fuel driven trade deficits while reducing the wasted labour represented by biomass collection and burning.

Goal 10 Reduce Inequalities ​Sunshine is distributed more equally than many other sources of energy. By enhancing distributed access to clean, free solar energy at all levels of society from smallholder farmers to industry, GoSol technology is reducing the inequalities inherent in centralized energy systems.

Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities ​Cities and communities are only as sustainable as the energy upon which they are based. By enhancing access to renewable and clean solar thermal energy, GoSol technology is ensuring communities can thrive long term.

Goal 13 Climate Action ​Solar thermal technology reduces deforestation, particulate pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases. GoSol’s solar thermal technology can be implemented globally to make an impact within the 12 years limit set by the most recent IPCC report.

Recently the International Panel on Climate Change has called for sweeping changes to society in order to minimize the damage of climate change and GoSol technology can play a big role in that.

Our budding entrepreneurs in Uganda have a lot to say and we’ll be sharing more of their stories and perspectives in the coming weeks, stay tuned.


Announcing Partnership with Forest Trends

Posted Saturday 20 October 2018 by Eva Wissenz.

GoSol is landing in South America! We are very happy about our latest partnership with the organization Forest Trends and excited to start in Brazil where we have a lot of demand for our SOL5.

Forest Trends is a US based NGO supported by USAID and IKEA Foundation. One of their goals is to support the creation of supply chains that allow the indigenous communities to market sustainable harvested forest produce. By supporting the sustainable production of for example roasted nuts, dried seeds and fruits, it becomes possible to leverage globalization to improve the livelihoods of the indigenous communities and strengthen their position to protect the forests.

The cooperation between GoSol, Forest Trends and the indigenous communities starts by identifying the most value-adding uses for solar thermal energy and how to best boost the local communities’ livelihoods. For many energy intensive processes, such as dehydrating, roasting and other food processing, the GoSol technology will allow the communities to tap into the free power of the sun, for processes for which they would have had to use firewood.

Once the first phase of the project is completed, the solution can then be scaled to support indigenous communities throughout the world’s rainforests to protect their livelihoods and enable sustainable supply chains.

The project started October 2018 in the state of Rondônia, Brazil.

The Amazon, the worlds largest rain forest home to many indigenous communities.
Indigenous communities are at the forefront of forest preservation.

Transition Time for GoSol: New Video,
Scaling the Direct Solar Economy

Posted Friday 19 October 2018 by Eva Wissenz.

Dear Friends, Partners, Customers and Followers,

It’s an important moment for us: GoSol has achieved the Direct Solar Economy vision! By providing a clean source of energy to SME’s and farmers, a sustainable economy has started in sunny developing countries.

The educational trainings with Plan International in Uganda is the last building brick of our vision. Everything that had to be proven is proven now: the SOL5 is working, it can be produced locally, entrepreneurs are using it daily, it has a measured impact, and many young trainees want to start a sustainable business right now (and some already did!). The market is there and international partners are working with us... Now is the time to scale up.

In this 5min video, we are presenting our journey, our ecosystem of amazing partners and supporters and the achievements over the past years.

We hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do. Big thanks to Urs Riggenbach and our amazing video maker, Basile Remaury!


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