Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability

Crocodiles, a Waterwheel and Renewable Energy in Zambia

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    Senior Design Project Installation Team (l to r): Nowell Ancheta, Colin O’Brien, Steve Szablya (Faculty Advisor)

    Crocodiles, a Waterwheel and Access to Water: Watch Video of the Project Here!

    The townspeople of Chirundu, Zambia, used to risk their lives just to gather water. In 2008, when four of his neighbors were killed by crocodiles as they fetched water from the nearby Zambezi River, Father Michele Crugnola asked Seattle University students if they could help.   

    In response to that request, a Seattle University Senior Design Team designed a waterwheel-driven spiral pump. The pump lifts river water to storage tanks which then feed three wash basins happily situated a safe distance from the river. The waterwheel platform now provides the 7,000 inhabitants of Chirundu with the water they rely on for drinking, cooking and washing. That was in 2009.

    Generating Electricity

    Fast forward to 2013, and we find another group of SU students responding in a creative way -- this time, to the fact that only 21% of the people in developing countries have access to electricity.  

    In June a Seattle University “Professionals Without Borders” team returned to Chirundu. The students, working on their own senior design project, installed an electrical generator on the existing waterwheel, the same one developed by SU students four years earlier. The project was conceived by Father Bert Otten, SJ, Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Father Otten, who now lives in Zambia, and the design team see this as a pilot project to test a unique way to deliver power to rural developing countries.  

    Over this past year the Senior Design Team (Electrical and Computer Engineering students Nowell Ancheta, Colin O’Brien, Jeremy Deibell and Andrew Sprenger) designed and constructed a prototype of the generator. They also conducted extensive tests to determine the generator’s power characteristics and appropriate methods for the control, transmission, and storage of the generated power. 

    The newly installed 216-W generator system was funded by the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability, the Seattle University Endowed Mission Fund, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The system includes controls, protection (grounding) and a battery system that can be used for a variety of purposes, including charging cell phones and operating pumps and other electrical devices.   

    Appropriate Technology

    The generator uses simple, appropriate technology to deliver renewable electricity to Chirundu. It features a commonly available washing machine motor and simple electronics to charge batteries. In addition, the system, even when the cost of constructing the waterwheel itself is factored in, is a more cost-effective source of power than the solar panel equivalent in this rural part of Africa. The entire electrical system, like the existing waterwheel project, is easy to maintain and can be re-created in other communities. This pilot generator project also sets a precedent for others to follow throughout the region.   

     image Zambia waterwheel

    The newly installed generator, operating on the Zambezi, produces 9 Amps at 24 Volts, 24 hours a day. 


    Other Project Team Members, not in Zambia:

    Jeremy Deibell

    Andrew Sprenger

    Industry Advisors:

    Mark Beggs, Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering (BSCE) 2012

    Meghan Reha, Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering 2009 (on the original 2009 team)

    Renee Vandermause BSCE 2013

    Jeff Wilhite, SU Staff

    DeLaunde Hopkins, SU Staff