Neil Philip Noble

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Neil is Technical Advisor for Practical Action's technical information service, Practical Answers. He has a background in mechanical engineering.

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org/practicalanswers

Posts by Neil Philip

  • Power Hack Update

    December 11th, 2014

    Two days of intensive thinking and model making are over and the results are impressive. The three groups of people involved who had not met each other before the event involved in produced some interesting concepts presented. The final designs were a power hub, a scrap laptop battery upcycling an energy brickkr that uses the heat from a fire to generate electricity.

    The Power Hub is an adaptable rotating charger that can then fix wind blades or water turbine buckets to it to generate electricity. Making wind turbine blades out of old drinks cans could be a real challenge. The device would be able to make enough electricity for LED lighting in the home. Many of the components could be made from scrap materials such as plastic bottles and old drinks cans. However some of the components would have to be supplied in kit form.

    There was a reckrent report that many laptop batteries are being thrown away when they still have considerable life in them. The idea was that where e-scrap is prevalent this element of the waste could be turned into an income generating activity for scrap processers and the batteries, once they have been taken out of their old casing and put into the new universal casing could be used to store electricity for home without reliable electricity.

    The Energy Brick incorporated thermocouples into a clay brick that would be used to make up the krsurround of a basic fire used for cooking. The brick would have connections out that would then be able to charge up a mobile phone or for some lights. The team focused on the manufacturing process of with a scale-scale spot welding device to produce the thermocouples from wire fed through on reels.

    There was lots of cutting and gluing throughout the two days. Rapid prototyping is not as quick as working things out on paper or making things out of cardboard or even plastic board. Then the components were printed in green plastic from a set of printers at the back of the room. The components would need further work to turn them into real usable items.

    The design will also need further work. It is great to be involved in a hackathon where ideas can be developed but there are a lot of assumptions thrown in with the design ideas. To make a real assessment of the designs we would need to examine these assumptions and try to relate the good ideas to real life situations.

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  • The Power Hack

    December 2nd, 2014

    3 teams, 2 days, 1 challenge – to combat global energy poverty

    9-10 December, Google UK, London

    Practical Action will be part of the set up for The Power Hack, a design hackathon looking at how technology can be made useful to those in the world who are not normally catered for by commercial companies.

    Although the challenge is considerable I hope that the event will demonstrate the potential for designing for those living in poverty and make the needs of those people a more prominent aspect of those involved in technology innovation.

    Energy enables people to work their way out of poverty, provides better access to education and other basic services, and improves health and wellbeing, especially for women and children. However, 1 in 5 people around the world have no access to electricity and the chance to connect to any national energy grid is a remote possibility for many and some people living in more remote locations may never be connected.

    The issue of energy access is the subject of the forthcoming event in Google UK, London on the 9th and 10th of December where teams of designers will attempt to use rapid prototyping design tools DesignSpark Mechanical, DesignSpark PCB and the RS Toolbox App to produce a design of a small-scale energy generating technology for domestic use.

    As well as the Power Hack teams based at the Google offices in London there will be an opportunity for teams to participate from around the world on a virtual basis. Each team will consist of experts from a diverse range of companies, sectors and disciplines. At the end of the event, each of the designs will be 3D printed on-site and presented to the global audience through a video stream.

    Designs must be simple and cost-effective to use and manufacture. They must be robust, easy to repair and simple to transport, and also flexible enough to be used in many different environments.

    Power Hack teams will consider constraints such as :

    • Corrosion
    • Sand damage
    • Waterproofing
    • Ruggedness
    • Limited moving parts (just one if possible!)
    • Maintenance and repair

    The Power Hack will be streamed live on the DesignSpark website and captured on the DesignSpark social channels to link engineers across the world.

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  • Energy Knowledge Sharing Initiative

    February 28th, 2014

    Practical Answers is looking to build up its partnerships with a focus sharing knowledge on energy development.  We want to establish an information service focused on small-scale energy delivered built on organisational collaboration.

    Its objective is to bring together like-minded organisations working in energy for development with an emphasis on knowledge sharing for practical implementation of small-scale technologies for energy delivery. It is different to some existing networks in that it does not focus on policy and that its focus is on developing countries rather than more industrialised countries.

    The advantage of bringing organisations together in respect the knowledge means that a better service can be provided for those in search of information to help implement energy delivery and that leaning can be shared between organisations.

    The Perspective from Practical Answers18110

    Practical Answers is in the process of changing its structure, developing more services on the ground where it can have a real impact on those in poverty but it is also important to retain the global perspective. This global perspective allows Practical Action and other organisations to learn from each other and for that learning to take place across geographical boundaries.  Practical Answers sees this as developing, as the petals of a flower, individual technological sectors, which most organisations will find familiar such as Water, Health, Agriculture and Energy to name a few.  Each petal will group together those organisations that are interested and active in that particular sector. For Practical Action that would be a number of sectors.

    For example; WASH Knowledge Point is a collaboration between WaterAid, IRC, REDR, EngineerAid and Practical Action which aims to pool the expertise of all the organisations in order to bring better information to enquiries and provide a better question and answer service in the area of WASH and humanitarian response.

    Practical Action is now interested in developing a similar collaboration in the energy sector and wants to hear from any organisation that is active in sharing technical know-how and managing requests for information from others who may need guidance.

    Objectives / What will it do?

    • Combined question and answer capabilities of organisations bringing together a pool of expertise that would not be possible form one orgainsation on its own
    • Introduce mechanisms for information exchange between organisations of existing knowledge materials and resources to make it more accessible (Open Data)
    • Enable organsiations to work together to develop new knowledge materials that are of a very high standard through cross working. (peer production)
    • coordinate efforts in promoting the issue of energy delivery for development
    • leverage funding opportunities for energy projects

    In 2014 Practical Action will hold a meeting of organisations (possible a virtual meeting or a series of meetings depending on the geographical and logistical considerations) which will bring the organisations together to work out what the potential for collaboration is.

    Contact me if you are interested and have something to offer.

    neil.noble@practicalaction.org.uk

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  • Global Dimension Case Studies

    February 20th, 2014

    I recently was involved in an Engineers Without Borders workshop held at the Design School of Loughborough University. For me this was a chance to introduce the Global Development in Engineering Education (GDEE) http://gdee.eu to academics in the United Kingdom.ATD 30.01.2014 photo 1 group work

    The initial session was designed to provide participants with an introduction to the complexities and contradictions of engineering in a development context. After which some more experienced academics talked about their experience of engineering in developing countries, as well as ideas for increasing the impact of engineering research in international development

    For example: Professor  Robert M Kalin  from the University of Strathclyde described how they manage their projects with a vertically integrated project approach developed with their work on Integrated Water Resources Management

    While at Loughborough University we took the opportunity to visit the Water Engineering Development Centre (WEDC)   which has a huge amount of specialist information on water and sanitation topics for developing countries. He talked a little bit about issues related to trans-boundary aquifers as well as technologies used from mapping water points.ATD 30.01.2014 photo 2 brian reed speaking to group

    After the discussions on the EWB Challenge http://www.ewb-uk.org/ewbchallenge  event there was an opportunity to introduce the Global Development in Engineering Education (GDEE) http://gdee.eu   initiative which allowed academic staff to outline what their needs are for case studies and there were some useful insights into what is going to be required.

    Some of the case studies that have so far been put forward include:

    • The ecological toilet  – Nicaragua – ONGAWA
    • Sustainable sanitation in the village of Ambalamanga, Mahajanga, Madagascar – TCIC
    • UASB anaerobic technology for wastewater treatment in the city of Mahajanga, Madagascar – TCIC

    The one that we specifically looked at in detail was the micro-hydro project from Practical Action in Malawi. The technical details of a real case study were appreciated and it was thought that academic staff would be happiest using the basic information and pulling out the relevant elements to meet their own objectives whether that was a short discussion within a lecture or a much longer exercise for multiple students over a period of some weeks. So the case studies need to be easily edited by those using them.ATD 30.01.2014 photo 3 gdee case studies feedback session

    I was also fortunate enough to be part of the filming of a video that is going to be an introduction to the Global Dimension in Engineering Education project and its international development courses for academics wanting to integrate the global dimension to engineering and other technical subjects. The video will shortly be on the GDEE website for you to have a look at.

     

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  • Let’s Talk Toilets

    February 20th, 2014

    As part of the University of Edinburgh’s International Development Week I was asked to take part in a Development Academy Loo Event which aimed to bring together students from architecture, engineering, and international development in a multi-disciplinary  workshop where they were challenged to come up with a sanitation solution to three different scenarios; a rural setting in arid farmland, an urban setting with densely crowded housing and a location where houses were built up on stilts above water.

    The Practical Action technical brief Types of Toilet and Their Suitability that outlines some of the options available in low-cost toilet design was taken as a starting point and I highlighted a few issues that related to these designs and how they are implemented in practice, some of which is repeated here.

    Stepped Improvement

     

     stepped-improvement

     

     

     

    The basic approach of Practical Action is to take people from a situation where we there is no sanitation to one where there is a stepped improvement on what has gone before. This goes hand in hand with improvements in terms of behaviour and in terms of facilities for washing as well as the catering for the waste management issues that part of improved toilet facilities.

    Poor Quality Toilets

    Although is some locations toilets exist they are in such a poor condition that they do not provide any health benefit. The examples shown below are all from Kenya. And you can see that the waste from the toilet flows into an open channel. This means that there are no benefit.

    Poor-Quality-Toilet

    This is a poorly constructed corrugated toilet block with an open sewage channel in Kibara, an informal settlement (slum) in Nairobi, Kenya. It occupies about a square mile and is home to something like 700,000 people. Drainage consists of “natural” drainage channels formed in the paths and roads, which render the roads impassable during the rainy season; sanitation facilities are insufficient and waste disposal services do not exist. Sanitation is a huge problem.

    Rural Toilets The situation for people in rural areas can be quite different to those in more urban areas and the issues faced when it comes to sanitation are particular to the location. The population will be low and dispersed over a greater area.  People can be in very remote locations a long way from any urban centre, possibly in a mountainous area   which makes transportation of materials and goods difficult.

    Remote-ToiletThis photograph of a compost toilet in Peru highlights the remoteness of some homes. This project was managed by Practical Action Latin America (Soluciones Prácticas).

    Types of Toilets

    In rural areas basic toilets, variations on pit latrines, are common. Beyond open defecation, possibly the simplest approach, is the Arbour Loo (see Toilets That Make Compost by Peter Morgan http://developmentbookshop.com/toilets-that-make-compost.html or download at  http://www.ecosanres.org/pdf_files/ToiletsThatMakeCompost.pdf). This is a shallow hole which is filled relatively quickly, once it is full the toilet superstructure (the part above ground) is move to a newly dug hole. The old hole with its composting waste is used to cultivate a tree, hence the name of arbour loo.

    Conventional pit latrines (See https://practicalaction.org/a-practical-guide-for-building-a-simple-pit-latrine) are common and are generally dug a little bit deeper. Ventilation Improved Pit Latrines have additional features which mean that flies are trapped within the toilet vent thus reducing the spread of disease.

    VIP-in-Kenya

    This school in Kenya (left)  has installed ventilation improved toilets which have additional benefits in improved hygiene as flies become tripped within the toilet and die.

    Compost-toilet-in-NepalThis compost toilet (right) is another of Practical Action’s projects. It is built in rural Nepal. Practical Acton has focused on constructing the chambers that are underground while the superstructure is built by the farmer from local materials.

     

    Urban Toilets

    Urban-mapUrban sanitation where there is no sewage systems such as the Kaptembwa and Rhonda estates in Nekuru, Kenya shown below have very densely packed housing which very few toilets. The main issue where the toilets do exist, most probably pit latrines, is that the waste has to be removed. In some places specialist equipment  might be used but too often it a full pit latrine has to emptied by hand

     

    Types of Toilets

    Bio-sanitationThere are a range of ways in which this is approached. The PeePoo is an approach where you use a single use bag. This then can be passed to a collection point. More conventional in some respects is a regular collection of waste from the home every day or every two or three days, the collection is made by workers who take the waste to a disposal centre. One example of this is the Clean Team Ghana. These approaches get round the problem of waste building up on site which can be an advantage in confined spaces. More common is intermittent emptying such as pit latrines but these need to be emptied in, sometimes this is done by hand when there is no alternative but there are designs for small scale machines such as a vacutug that are capable of getting into small spaces to extract the waste  (see Pit Emptying Systems). Pour flush toilets such as Aqua-privy and sceptic tanks also have their own advantages.

    More advanced technologies such as bio-sanitation (see Bio-latrines ) can be used in certain locations if there is sufficient funds available. Here an underground biogas chamber is being constructed that will be part of the sanitation system. Then participants were set to design their best solution to a given sanitation problem. There was the dry rural setting, an urban setting and a high water setting. With Practical Action’s urban Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) work households and landlords are encourages to provide better sanitation through an approach of establishing a set of standard six toilet designs which ensures that people know what they are getting, the characteristics are well known and the costs can be accounted for by users and banks thus making is much easier to get a loan for installing a toilet. There are many other considerations that have not been covered here but should be taken into account such as high water tables, rocky conditions and other geological aspects. And then there are the considerations of design for disability which seems to be omitted in many projects

    Making Toilets

    Urinals-in-KenyaAs cost has to be kept to a minimum, then you need to determine what can be achieved with the available money.This example of a simple urinal is from a pilot ecosan facility in London (a suburb in Nakuru) through the ROSA (Resource Oriented Sanitation Options for Peri-urban Africa). While Practical Action has worked in partnership with ROSA (local consortium) Practical Action did not have any direct input in this facility. ROSA is managed through WASTE Netherlands and others. Transportation issues will also play a part.

     Here we see a few items being transported by rickshaw in Bangladesh.

    Transport

     

     

     

     

     

    Additional Resources

    https://practicalaction.org/sanitation-answers

    http://saner.gy/our-work/the-sanergy-model

    http://www.cleanteamtoilets.com/

    http://www.sswm.info/

    Contact Us

    infoserv@practicalaction.org.uk

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  • Global Dimension award

    September 17th, 2013

    The Global Dimension in Engineering Education is proud to announce the result of the 1st European award for best practices for the integration of Sustainable Human Development into technology & engineering education.

    The Committee was made up of experts from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya), Universitat Politècnica de Valencia, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Loughborough University, Università degli Studi di Trento, ONGAWA, Practical Action, Engineers Without Borders and Training Centre for International Cooperation.

    P1030267

    It decided to award with a price of €3000 the next proposals:

    • B.E.S.T. (Best Environmental Sustainable Technologies) for International Cooperation, presented by Sabrina Sorlini from University of Brescia.
    • Beyond traditional education in Engineering: a systemic approach to strengthen development, presented by Emanuela Colombro from Politecnico di Milano.
    • The integration of Education for Development in the Civil Engineering School of the University of Granada, presented by Javier Ordóñez from Universidad de Granada.

    To give a special mention to the following proposals:

    • Hacking and Translating for Social and Economic Development, presented by Adolfo Villafiorita from ICT4G Fondazione Bruno Kessler and University of Trento.
    • Introducing Sustainability and Human Development skills at the Barcelona School of Informatics using Service Learning, presented by David López from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.
    • Integrating Sustainable Human Development into Engineering Design, presented by David Toll from Durham University.
    • Sustainable Human Development in Mainstream Undergraduate Engineering Education, presented by Alison Furber from University of Edinburgh.
    • Introducing Humanitarian Engineering and Computing, presented by Elizabeth Miles from Coventry University.

    The Committee wants to recognize the high quality of all the presented proposals, and encourage all the participants to follow the European Project Global Dimension in Engineering Education – (http://gdee.eu).

    The awards was presented in Cambridge (UK), Robinson College on September 24th during the Parallel Activities Sessions of the EESD13 Rethinking the Engineer:
    http://www-eesd13.eng.cam.ac.uk/conference/activities/ewb.

    Congratulations to all the awarded and thank you for participating in this activity.

    Look at for the next award to be announced later in the year.

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  • The role of construction in development and economic growth: challenges and opportunities for developing and emerging economies

    September 16th, 2013

    Thank you to Dr. Tabaral Ballal for inviting me to the recent international workshop at the University of Reading on the roles of construction in development and economic growth.

    The starting point for the workshop was the notion that the construction industry plays a pivotal role in the economic growth and development of nations. Economic activities are highly dependent on a strong construction presence for the provision of investment opportunities, job creation and development of infrastructure in all types of economies. In developing and emerging economies, this reliance is all the more significant.

    The objective of the workshop was to create a forum to discuss and debate issues concerning developing and emerging economies. We hope this discussion and debate can continue beyond the two days of the workshop. This potentially will be in the form of collaborative research (on issues that matter to communities in developing countries) between Practical Action and the University of Reading’s School of Construction Management and Engineering.

    However, this discussion does not need to be restricted to Practical Action and the School of Construction Management and Engineering, it could include anyone who has an interest in this area of development.

    Dr. Tabarak Ballal

    Dr. Tabarak Ballal talking at the workshop that took place on September 5th and 6th 2013.

    The workshop attendees included contractors, consultants, the research community, government agencies, NGOs, Manufacturers and suppliers.

    One approach that we have been discussing within Practical Action is a technical advisory service that brings diverse expertise together from a multiple base of organisations, institutions, consultants and companies thus providing a platform to exchange technical information and discuss significant issues that arise.
    Some of you that have long memories may know that there was something similar called the Building Advisory Service Information Network which included a number of organisations such as GTZ (now GIZ), SKAT, Development Alternatives and ITDG (now Practical Action) and others. Could something like this work in the current development climate? Yours thoughts on this are very welcome.

    Neil Noble at the University of Reading

    Neil Noble presenting at the workshop.

    The workshop gave me an opportunity to look at some of the work Practical Action has undertaken relating to construction and shelter. One of these topics that seemed to be of interest was the use for stabilised soil blocks and their building standards.
    While building standards have been developed in Zimbabwe and Kenya for the appropriate use of stabilised soil blocks there does not seem to be the equivalent in other countries, during the workshop we were discussing difficulty in obtaining similar standards for Sudan.

    These changes in standards were introduced to enable low-income communities gain access to decent and affordable housing rather than having standards that act as a barriers to better housing for the poor.

     

     

    An image taken from Emerging Partnership for Implementing Sustainable Building Standards

    An image taken from Emerging Partnership for Implementing Sustainable Building Standards

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  • Global Dimension in Engineering Education

    June 18th, 2013

    6192European award for best practice on integration of Sustainable Human Development into technology / engineering education

    About the Global Dimension in Engineering Education project

    Global Dimension in Engineering Education, a cross-cutting initiative placing development education into technology studies is a EuropeAid project which aims to stimulate the introduction of education for development in European Universities. This project will impact positively on the attitudinal values and skills of students in relation to sustainable human development (SHD). This is being dealt with by integrating SHD as a cross-cutting issue in teaching activities through a two-fold strategy. Its first objective is to improve the competences of academics to enable them to introduce SHD into the curricula and facilitating the engagement of both staff and students in academic initiatives related to SHD.

    Objective of the award

    There is little doubt about the role that higher education may play in efforts to promote and achieve sustainable human development. One challenge is a shortage of academics actively engaged in promoting measures related to SHD in teaching activities. The objective of this award is to identify current best practice for the integration of sustainable human development in technology/engineering education. The award is part of a wider European project looking at improving the integration of human development issues into technology studies/engineering education.

    Awards

    There will be 3 awards of €3.000 (before taxes). The tax will depend on each individual situation. The awarded person must be the main author of the work.

    Your submission

    Your submission will outline how sustainable human development has been integrated into the applicants teaching. The applicant’s works will be of a theoretical or applied character and can be, but not limited to, one of the following types:

    • Innovative methods for integrated SHD into the curriculum
    • Converting existing experiences in development education into technology /engineering studies.
    • Making materials for the integration of SHD available to the Academic Community.
    • Innovative methods for the support and supervision of a PhD Thesis, Master Thesis, Bachelor Thesis, or equivalent.

    Applicants

    • The main applicant must hold an academic post at a European University (for example if the work is the supervision of a thesis, Master Thesis it is the academic supervisor that should apply).
    •  A team can also participate: in this case the principle applicant must be an academic at a University.
    • All the participants accept the conditions of the award and the publication of the awarded works.
    •  The teachers or researchers included in the Organizing Committee, Academic Committee or in the Global Dimension in Engineering Eduction project may not participate in the award.
    • The deadline is July 18th 2013.

    Modalities

    • Modality one: Individual applicant or small teams with one principle applicant (for example within a department)
    • Modality two: Institutional application (university), (only one proposal per institution is accepted)

    Documents to be presented

    The candidates will fulfil an on line application form available on:

    https://vri5.rec.upm.es/european_award/ 

    The on line application form will include:

    • Summary of the work (maximum 5 pages).
    • Any other relevant documents related to the work: paper, book, PhD thesis, Master Thesis
    • A short CV of the principle applicant (maximum 2 pages).
    • Covering letter.
    • Letter of reference from the university (in the case of Institutional award modality).

    Evaluation criteria
    The Academic Committee will select the best three works based on the previous evaluation of one NGO and one University institution, based on the following criteria:

    • Quality of the work, including coherence and sustainability.
    • Impact of the work on the academic activities of the European Universities. A high number of students and teachers in the institutions will be a merit for this criterion.
    • Innovation of the work, including novel educational aspects.

    Organizing and Academic Committees
    This award is organized by the Global Dimension EuropeAid project. The institutions involved in this project are:

    Universities: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (UPV), Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Loughborough University, Università degil Studi di Trento (UNITN).

    NGOs: ONGAWA, Ingeniería para el Desarrollo Humano (Engineering for Human Development), Practical Action, Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UK), Training Centre for International Cooperation (TCIC).

    The Academic committee is made up of one member from each one of the institutions (Universities and NGOs) that participate in this project. These members have experience in education for development in Technological / Engineering Universities.

    Contact information

    Please, contact withdirector.cooperacion@upm.es with any questions regarding this award.

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  • Understanding Equine Draught Harness

    April 26th, 2013

    A one-day workshop designed to enhance the understanding of equine draught and harness related issues, is being presented as an in-depth guide .

    The outcome of a recent harness related meeting made clear the need and desire for an improved understanding of equine draught harness amongst operational NGO’s working in animal welfare in developing countries.

    To further this, a one-day workshop designed to enhance the understanding of equine draught and harness related issues, is being presented.

    The venue for this will be at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm in Shropshire, United Kingdom, on the 8th May 2013 between 10am – 4pm.

    Open to all vets, veterinary students and NGO’s with an interest in animal welfare, it will consist of an in-depth guide to understanding the principles and dynamics of equine draught, the harness used, its component parts and how they work in relation to the animal.

    We will also look at the application of harness to enable optimum draught and harness related injuries, their cause and methods of prevention.

    Advice to assist NGO’s in identifying inappropriate harnessing methods or misaligned application of harness will also be offered.

    These are just some of the issues to be addressed. If time allows we will look at harnessing animals in multiples and the variations in harness in relation to the task to be undertaken.

    ‘Without the application of fit-for-purpose apparatus, equine can serve no purpose. They will remain but humble beasts of the field’.

    The day will begin with a power-point presentation to illustrate the above and to address other issues of concern. This will be a flexible presentation open to questions and answers as issues arise, taking us through until lunch.

    In the afternoon there will be a follow-up, practical demonstration on equine harnessing using the Acton Scott horses/donkey. Much of what was discussed during the morning session will be corroborated.

    Simon, the horseman at Acton Scott will be on hand to answer any questions on harness usage and equine handling. Field activities using the horses may also be possible depending upon Simon’s planned farming schedule.

    This will be followed by a visit to the wheelwright’s workshop where issues relating to cart/wagon production can be aired.

    If you wish to attend this workshop the cost will be £70 per person. Lunch in Acton Scott’s café will be included. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be available as required throughout the day. Those interested in attending should apply in advance with cheques being made out to HarnessAid and posted to the address below.

    As a gesture to the proposed establishment of a harness development working group to address harness related issues in developing countries, 50% of any proceeds will be held in abeyance to support its much needed formation.

    Contact
    HarnessAid, (Atten. T. Davis.)
    c/o. Acton Scott Historic Working Farm,
    Wenlock Lodge, Acton Scott,
    Church Stretton,
    Shropshire. SY6 6QN,
    United Kingdom
    Email: harnessaid@gmail.com  tdharness@talktalk.net

     

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  • Whatever happened to the hydrogen economy?

    February 19th, 2013

    One of the questions that was asked the other day was whatever happened to the hydrogen economy?
    It was a popular subject about a decade ago when it was thought that we would all be powering industry with hydrogen energy but things seemed to have gone very quiet since then. The problem is that the infrastructure change will be huge; it will take lots of money and time to achieve so here we are still waiting. So are there things that we can do now that will work and provide us with clean and convenient energy?
    Is locally produced hydrogen on demand a realistic alternative to massive infrastructure development for industrialised economies or could this technology be used for developing economies? Some people are promising this new technology will sidestep some of the difficulties faced by other hydrogen technology. Will innovations such as this make clean energy accessible to everyone on the planet?
    Innovation in the energy sector is abundant at the moment but many of these developments are still in the research stage and are some way from becoming used on a large scale. Which technology will win out and make a real impact on a significant scale is hard to tell at this stage.
    One of the technologies that is under development, as reported in New Scientist & at EPFL, at the moment is turning solar energy directly into hydrogen without first generating an electrical current using rust as one of the main components. It seems like a strange approach when we are constantly trying to eliminate rust from technologies but a thin layer of iron oxide could be just the thing to generate hydrogen directly from sunlight in a more effective way than the traditional photovoltaic cell and electrical cathode.
    Can these technologies be applied to less developed regions of the world? Well, it is too early to tell as they have not been proven in any situation. However we move ahead the demand for energy is on the increase, it enables people to have a better quality of life.
    It seems that future energy options are going to be more divers and generally more complicated than they are now.
    I was looking at some of these options while editing the book A Handbook of Small-scale Energy Technologies  which looks at the more established technologies such as micro hydro and solar thermal technologies. These approaches have been have been tried and tested and can be implemented now with predictable results.
    Of course, each technology needs to fit the particular circumstances but a little analysis of any situation will determine what is required. For many the hydrogen economy is a distant future but energy access is much closer.

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