In April 2014 we checked in with Francis Masi, Gerald Nguluwe, and Charles Chitseko who have now successfully completed their proof of concept on Extracting Heat from Compost – a MREAP REEF grant administered by Washted.

Their project involved building a bin and testing various combinations of materials, water and air content in a composting process to achieve a useful temperature. In their testing, the team managed to record 51 degrees (°C), which was sufficient to show that the technology was viable for the purpose envisaged: heating water for bathing in rural Malawi. Whilst it does represent a successful proof of concept, further work will be needed to design and test a heat transfer system so it can be used with a geyser.

On the availability of funding through REEF, Charles said “this was an advantage for us to prove this.  The knowledge that we had was theoretical and that fund [REEF] has helped us achieve this and come up with a tangible idea.”  MREAP is impressed with the level of innovation that three bright students with good idea and enormous enthusiasm can achieve and were pleased to support their project through REEF.

The team was motivated to work on this project because they saw a potential of a by-product that had use but is typically ignored or wasted: heat from a composting process.  Many farmers will have access to the inputs, maize peels, banana peels, and chicken droppings, so it would have a potential application in many rural areas in Malawi.  The design of the composting bin and exact make-up of the inputs went through several iterations until they were able to achieve the desired temperature. Guidance from the Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Agriculture in Lunzu has been tremendously helpful to the students.

In addition to providing expertise on the correct mix of composting materials, it has also included assistance in gathering materials, and labour to help build the bin.  The reason the Ministry was interested in helping with the project was because, as Francis explains, “we are able to help each other; they are able to help us in the composting, and we are able to help them in maximizing the heat and obtain it very efficiently. They [the Ministry of Agriculture] will be able to use this to train farmers to get what they want, the manure, but at the same time, getting the heat.”

“The government is also interested in using this technology as a motivation to farmers, because if the farmers become aware that there is heat that is lost, they will be more interested to do more composting. Actually some farmers are reluctant when it comes to compost and they opt for a combination of fertilizers and it is harmful for our environment” added Gerald.