By Ozak Esu

The fifth annual Engineers Without Borders UK ‘EWB Challenge’ finals was held on Monday 20th June 2016 which I attended at The Crystal, London – the world’s first building with LEED Platinum and BREEAM Outstanding certifications.

The EWB Challenge is a design programme aimed at first and second year undergraduate students. Set within the university curriculum, the programme provides students with the opportunity to learn about design, sustainable development, teamwork, and communication, through working on design briefs that have been created in collaboration with various international partner organisations of Engineers Without Borders UK.

The 2015-2016 EWB Challenge focused on Engineers Without Borders local partner, Reignite Action for Development (RAD), a UK based, not-for-profit organisation with a project team based in Bambui, Cameroon.

Bambui is a rural community in the North West English speaking region of Cameroon, which is undergoing rapid urbanisation following the construction of a new university three years ago. This fast pace urban development is increasing the pressure on the existing water supply, sanitation, waste management and housing facilities available.

4600 students from across the UK took part in the challenge, developing sustainable solutions to address problems in Bambui, within nine EWB Challenge design areas:

  1. Water supply
  2. Sanitation and hygiene
  3. Energy
  4. Food transformation
  5. Transport
  6. Infrastructure and urban planning
  7. Waste management
  8. Climate change
  9. ICT

113 students, 30 academics, 19 judges and 40 individuals from across the engineering sector attended the finals, where a team of students from Sheffield Hallam University were awarded the winning prize for their efficient modular stove burner. The proposed stove burner takes advantage of the Venturi effect to draw oxygen into the system, aiding near-complete combustion, and hence, reducing expended particulates. This also results in reduced fuel consumption and deforestation. Utilising locally sourced concrete in Bambui, and cast in a modular fashion in wooden moulds, the Jenga-like stove design provides stability, mobility and easily maintained parts.

I got involved with the EWB Challenge, serving as a reviewer, because I support the Engineers Without Borders UK’s stance on sustainable knowledge and resource sharing internationally. I assessed reports submitted by students for the finals, and offered feedback on each reviewed design report, within the areas of energy, water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and infrastructure and urban planning. The marking criteria focused on students’ appreciation for social, environmental, ethical, economic and commercial considerations affecting the exercise of engineering judgement in design solutions. The sheer quality of the student proposed design solutions emphatically blew me away, especially their focus on the people/users, as well as the adaptability of their solutions.

Solutions from the finalists were:

  • London South Bank University

Bamdrawer Filter: A water purification and filtering system that takes advantage of moringa seeds, which are naturally available in the region. The design utilises bamboo sticks to make the skeleton structure of the filtering drawer system, and is made up of seven drawers.

Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB): A team of electrical engineering students proposed the use of CEB, as a building material, which is made primarily from mechanically pressed damp soil at high pressure, to form blocks for the construction of better infrastructure within Bambui.

Image 2London South Bank University (Team 10) presenting the Bamdrawer filter to the judges and audience.

Image 3London South Bank University (Team 9) presenting their compressed earth blocks solution to the judges.

  • Nottingham Trent University

Smokeless Firepit: Using recycled materials (waste barrels) and low cost manufacturing techniques, the firepit design creates a more efficient fire, allowing food to cook at hotter temperatures, whilst reducing health risks from smoke inhalation.

image 4Nottingham Trent University (Team 8) displaying their smokeless firepit project.

  • University of East Anglia

Energy in Bambui: The team proposed a cast iron stove that aims to achieve high thermal efficiency, with an integrated thermoelectric generator mounted on the unit, to provide off-grid power supply from waste heat.

Image 5University of East Anglia (Team 24) presenting their energy solution to the judges and audience.

image 6University of East Anglia (Team 24) displaying their cast iron stove.

  • Imperial College London

Waste for Power: The “Biodigester & BioBox” Scheme’ utilises a collection system through BioBoxes that are placed in individual households, which is then converted into biofuel at a central Biodigester site.

The day concluded with a keynote speech from IET President, Naomi Climer. She spoke about the vital role engineers and engineering has to play in addressing global challenges. I thoroughly enjoyed the day! It made me reflect on some of my reasons for pursuing a career in engineering, including contributing to poverty alleviation and making a positive sustainable difference in the world through technical solution development, and knowledge sharing. It reminded me of the power and duty that we as engineers have, to be ethical innovators, drivers of positive sustainable change, and to influence the world we live in.

The 2016/2017 EWB Challenge, renamed as the “Engineering for People Design Challenge”, will focus on Engineers Without Borders UK local partner, EcoSwell, a not-for-profit NGO based in Peru. I strongly recommend getting involved in it by joining the movement and/or donating.

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. This sounds like an amazing day! I think it is brilliant to try and tap into the innovative ideas that students come up with. It sounds like they came up with some amazing new ways of exploiting technology. I feel this is partly because they are unconstrained by the weight of experience – I think sometimes the day-to-day reality of working in engineering stifles free-thinking and creativity, constrained as we are by fees, deadlines, scopes, “getting the job done” and, sometimes, clients and other design team members! We must not forget that young engineers often deliver fresh thinking and new insights which are of enormous value to society and our profession. Thank you for your uplifting reminder of this!

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    • Hi Emma,
      Thank you for reading, and for your comment. It was indeed an amazing day and experience. Yes, I was very impressed with the ideas. It made me wish I did something similar when I was at Uni.
      I also agree with you, that the day-to-day reality of working in engineering can stifle freethinking especially in the construction and built environment sector. This was one of my first observations about the industry when I joined. I also think coming from a research/academic environment where I was able to explore and try new things within the boundaries of the funding available, with limited third party influence, highlighted this.
      Working in our industry can feel rigid at times because of fees, costs, safety concerns, and adhering to standards/regulations, which are all salient and valid reasons. However, the opportunities to collaborate and work with a wide range of people from varying disciplines, backgrounds and expertise to achieve one challenging objective makes it all worth it in the end.
      Ozak Esu

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