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Engineering for the Greater Good: BLUElab Projects Make Lasting Impact

ME Junior John Barnes (middle) and CSE Sophomore Tim Wurman (right)

BLUELab Guatemalan Solar co-leaders ME Junior John Barnes (middle) and CSE Sophomore Tim Wurman (right) examine a solar panel with a Guatemalan resident

Student members of BLUElab, Better Living Using Engineering, are finding innovative solutions to real-world problems locally and across the globe. Project teams focus on developing sustainable technologies that can have a lasting impact environmentally, culturally and economically.

BLUElab projects are as diverse as the organization’s membership, comprised of over 100 students across all College of Engineering departments and disciplines outside of engineering as well. “Students campus-wide are encouraged to pursue their passions in sustainability and create projects that improve living conditions and lives,” said Professor Steve Skerlos, the organization’s co-founder and faculty advisor.

WOVEN WIND WINS PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

A BLUElab team is continuing its initiative to generate a low-cost source of electricity to a small town in the mountains of Guatemala. For this pilot program, students have built a small wind turbine crafted of inexpensive, locally sourced materials. Local women generate personal income by weaving fabric for the turbine blades. This project was a 2012 Dell Social Innovation Challenge People’s Choice Winner and earned a $1,000 prize.

TURNING WASTE AND SCRAPS INTO SAFE FUEL

Another BLUElab team has been working on installing an anaerobic digestion system in Liberia. The team’s biodigester takes animal and human waste and food scraps and combines them with bacteria, which convert the mix into biogas comprised of between 60% and 70% methane. The biogas then can be used to produce electricity and odorless fertilizer, to heat water and to prepare food. Biogas is a healthier and more sustainable source of cooking fuel than wood.

COLLECTING AND PURIFYING WATER

BLUElab students have partnered with Nicaraguan-based blueEnergy, a non-governmental organization working with the United Nations, to build and implement a rainwater collection and purification system in the Bluefields region of the country. The team is using low-cost, indigenous materials to build the system and to provide clean water and sanitation services to one of the poorest, most isolated regions in the Western hemisphere.

LASTING IMPACT

This year a new student team formed to provide solar heating to rural homes, also in Guatemala. Several other projects are ongoing, too. “BLUElab members are continually conceiving of diverse new projects—all with the potential for real and positive impact for individuals,” said Skerlos.

Closer to home, BLUElab has continued its successful campus job fair and well attended Sustainability Speaker Series.

For more information, visit http://bluelab.engin.umich.edu/

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