Low-Tech Solutions from High-Tech Minds

alternative charcoal

Images courtesy of GOOD Magazine

In its latest issue, GOOD Magazine has a great feature up on the doings of MIT's D-Lab - they call it "an elite unit of low-tech mercenaries" - which seeks to find simple solutions to drastically improve the quality of life for people living in developing countries. That means building devices like a water tester and hammerhill using easy-to-find, mostly run-of-the-mill components.

Simplicity above all dictates the students' every decision. As Amy Smith, the D-Lab's director, recently noted: "Designs are more likely to be successful if they're not complicated and requiring all sorts of support and infrastructure. But simple doesn't mean easy. It's a challenge to get to those 'simple' solutions."

water test

In Haiti, the students decided to use bagasse, waste material left over from the processing of sugarcane, to create an alternative source of charcoal that minimizes the amount of air pollution generated and provides a more durable source of fuel. In addition, because the charcoal briquettes are so easy to form, they can help support the local economy by being sold to other markets in the country or abroad. Similar projects have also taken off in India, where people use wheat and rice straw, and Ghana, where they use corncobs.

One all-too-common problem affecting the livelihoods of people across the developing world is the quality of drinking water. Because available water-testing instruments often cost a fortune, the students combined plastic baby bottles with washers and a filter to create their own low-tech alternative. After allowing the water to get sucked through the filter with a syringe attached to the bottle's spout, the filter is removed and placed in a petri dish to be processed in an incubator for 24 hours. Each individual test costs several cents, and the entire kit runs for about $10 - a far cry from the $800- $1200 price tag affixed to conventional water-testers.

For more information about these and other nifty devices the D-Lab crew has been working on, be sure to check out their portfolio and the entire article over at the GOOD website.

Via ::GOOD Magazine: Low-Tech Laboratory (magazine)

See also: ::This Water Purifier is a Real "Life Saver", ::UNEP Bringing Solar Power Into India's Rural Mainstream, ::Envirofit: Retrofit Engine Kits To Reduce Southeast Asia's Pollution

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