Reaping the wind

A team of Engineering faculty members and students bringing light to a far-flung village triumphs in the 2017 SIKAT Design Challenge.

In the remote sitio of Pilihan in Obong, Dalaguete, residents constantly complain of the turbulent winds that put out their kerosene lamps at night. Unstable lighting due to strong winds had already been a long-time frustration among the residents of this peaceful community when a newly-formed social enterprise at USC, called Team Kahayag (Cebuano for illumination), arrived to see what could be done. Before long, the team told them that the very wind they abhorred could be the very same one that could actually provide them with their much-needed light.

Eleven million Filipinos, roughly 11% of the country’s total population, still do not have direct access to electricity. This is larger than that of its neighbors Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Impediments that hinder total electrification include red tape, lack of needed capital, insufficient infrastructure, and most importantly, the geography of the country comprising 7,641 islands.

Recognizing the pressing need to uplift the lives of impoverished Filipinos by providing access to electricity, Team Kahayag was created at the University of San Carlos as a social enterprise that provides timely, relevant, and transformative off-grid power solutions. It aims to empower households by giving them access to electricity and, at the same time, the means to improve productivity, sustainability, and self-sufficiency.

KAPLAG, which stands for Kahayag Air-Powered Lighting and Alternative Gardening, is the first solution that Team Kahayag has undertaken in its vision of electrifying far-flung areas with renewable energy technologies. Its acronym is most appropriate, for the Cebuano word kaplag means ‘discover’ and what an opportune discovery this initial project has been. KAPLAG is an integrated system composed of a wind turbine, a cellular reception booster, and a liquid fertilizer unit (LFU) anchored in a structure that supports vertical gardening.

In mountainous rural communities similar to Pilihan, moderate to turbulent winds can be harnessed using KAPLAG’s bamboo-based wind turbine to generate a power output of about 30 W. The turbine is mounted on a 10- to 20-ft bamboo structure, which is put up by the locals. This turbine charges a 20,000-mAh lithium battery that can provide lighting for a maximum of 12 hours and can even charge a mobile phone, which rural folks relay on for communication, news, and entertainment. A cellular reception booster allows for extended coverage in the mountains where signals are weak.

More than just providing electricity, KAPLAG also provides much-needed fertilizer for commercial crops to grow. The LFU, attached on the same bamboo structure, is fed with calcium chloride pellets, designed to absorb atmospheric water to form a liquid fertilizer medium that can be mixed with commercial fertilizer. The liquid fertilizer can nourish agricultural plants such as pepper, tomatoes, and beans especially during the summer months when water is scarce. The garden is a means to feed a household thereby promoting self-sufficiency; the residents may also plant ornamentals and sell them.

KAPLAG presents an opportunity for isolated and far-flung rural communities located in mountainous regions and small islands that have been longing for electricity to tap into the vast resources around them. KAPLAG has hopefully shown one viable way forward, one that is sustainable and easy for locals to operate and to claim as their own.

This feat was recognized in the SIKAT Design Challenge final rounds held in Manila, where Team Kahayag ended up in a tie with Ateneo de Manila University as first runner-up winners. Back at USC, the team brought not just pride to the University and its School of Engineering, but also a PHP150T prize and brighter prospects of a future made less darker for rural communities.

Tags: Engineering, Research, Community extension

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