NIU students and faculty attended a sustainable design expo in Washington, D.C., in May, showcasing their design for a biomass cook stove meant to help developing countries.
The P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Award Competition encourages participants to develop a business model that can save the world. Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Nick Pohlman and students Jonathan Barnes, Christopher Prokup, Rudolf Musika and John Ryan represented NIU at the conference.
“Our design focused on looking at energy, agriculture and solid waste disposal,” Pohlman said. The stove provides a clean way of cooking as well as a way to recycle leftover materials.
The cook stove has smoke-free emissions so there are no inhalation or respiratory problems when using it indoors. Also, the leftover carbon from the stove can be used as for the aeration of soil, allowing room for more plants to grow. More productive soil leads to leftover biomass which can be used to feed the stove again.
“This completes the sustainability loop that engineers are looking for,” Pohlman said.
It is also simple to build and can be made from indigenous materials.
“The students presented the cook stove at the design expo on the national mall, so literally we could see the Washington Monument on one side and the Capitol Building on the other,” Pohlman said. “We had everyone from research universities to the general public come look at the design.”
While the venue was impressive, it was the potential benefits of the design that excited students the most.
“For me, the best part of our design is the potential to help people of developing nations construct a viable and safe means of heating and cooking inside their homes,” said NIU student and conference attendee Jonathan Barnes, who also enjoyed interacting with his peers. at the event “I can’t stress enough how enjoyable and informative this project has been. I was able to network with a number of students and faculty members from different universities.”
Pohlman hopes that future design projects will be a collaboration of many different student groups, including Engineers Without Borders and the Environmental Studies Club. “We didn’t win an award at the expo, but I plan to do some work with the Institute for Environment Sustainability and Energy (ESE) to develop a team to work on future design projects,” Pohlman said.