Over winter break 2017, two undergraduate students, three graduate students, a professor, and some cookstove experts gathered to perform testing on a new cookstove-powered pasteurization system to see if it could effectively disinfect drinking water contaminated with e.coli and other disease-causing organisms. Today 1 in 10 people do not have access to clean drinking water and three billion people around the world still use traditional methods such as open biomass campfires to cook food or boil their water to purify it. This creates many problems for the user: health issues from inhaling the smoke, a high cost of using so much wood, and a safety risk for women who must travel farther and farther out of the safety of their camps or homes to get wood for their fires. Many refugee camps have little high concentrations of people with little access to wood or other fuel for fire. The extreme nature of the camp population puts stress on an area’s systems which are pushed to provide food and water. Boiling water for this dense population requires a great deal of time and human effort. Emissions from the process of cooking and cleaning water and deforestation are also harming the environment; in turn, the food sources are put at risk.

To solve these issues, the nonprofit InStove (the designer of the Institutional Rocket Stove verified by USAID to be the most advanced in its category in the world) created a cookstove and pasteurization system that reduced the amount of wood needed by 97%, directs the smoke away from the user through a chimney, and would, hopefully, be able to pasteurize water. Pasteurization heats water to a lower temperature (71°C) rather than boiling (100°C) and is therefore more efficient. The pasteurization system could produce 6,000 liters of clean drinking water a day if proven to effectively clean water.

Mechanical engineering students and faculty from Oregon State University conducted tests with advisors from InStove to see if these cook stoves could be used not only for cooking in low resource environments, but also to effectively and efficiently clean water. In these tests, a large amount of water was inoculated with E.coli, pumped into the stove, heated, and was then extracted into a clean container. The water was tested throughout the process to see how much E.coli was present.

Water was pumped up to this container and down to the stove

The stove

The container the stove dispensed the water into (blue)

E.coli concentrations before and after pasteurization

Three tests were conducted and they were all successful; the water started with a high concentration of E. coil and exited the stove with no E. coli present. With this information, the InStove can now go through the process of implementing these stoves around the world in places that need high quantities of clean drinking water such as refugee camps, schools, or hospitals. With only a pencil weight of fuel wood used to generate a liter of potable water, there is no other solid fuel water pasteurization system like this in the world today. It was great to be a part of this discovery and innovation in water pasteurization technology that can allow people around the world get clean water with more ease.

Since the April 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, the densely populated city of Kathmandu, Nepal has been in a state of repair. The Kathmandu Valley has many unreinforced masonry structures, many of which were severely damaged during the Gorkha Earthquake. Nepalese engineers are actively seeking practical solutions to improve Nepal’s seismic resilience. With funding provided by USAID and the Evans Fellowship, Professor Ben Mason and graduate student Rachel Adams were able to attend several trips to Nepal. Dr. Mason visited Kathmandu shortly after the Gorkha Earthquake for post-disaster reconnaissance. After his initial trips, Dr. Mason worked with a group from the U.S. to formulate workshops and training sessions focused around earthquake engineering. Rachel attended two trips in 2016 along with Dr. Mason and the team from the U.S. consisting of professors and members of the United States Geologic Survey (USGS).


During the one-year anniversary conference of the Gorkha Earthquake, experts from around the world came to Nepal to present their work since the earthquake.  At the conference, our group was able to learn what progress had been made in Nepal, and what the country still needed to recover and rebuild their infrastructure to better resist seismic events. We were also able to meet with Nepalese engineers and professors at Tribhuvan University to develop a comprehensive list of topics desired with a focus on earthquake engineering. By working with leaders of the National Society for Earthquake Technology in Nepal (NSET), we were able to organize a week long earthquake engineering workshop for Nepalese engineers that contained topics within structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, and seismology.


The earthquake engineering workshop was a very successful event that piqued the interest of Nepalese engineers. Following the completion of the workshop, more topics for subsequent workshops were requested and a collaborative relationship has been established for future work. The travel experience was also very valuable to the visitors from the U.S. The Nepalese have proved to be extraordinarily resilient following the Gorkha Earthquake. We can learn much from their efforts and spirit. The trip was also scientifically valuable as Nepal has many similarities in landscape and seismic hazard as the Pacific Northwest. We too are faced with an impending earthquake from a subduction zone fault boundary. We too live in a pronounced valley with extensive surrounding hillslopes prone to landslides. It has been a great opportunity to establish an international collaborative project which will help engineers develop creative solutions to face natural hazards.


We are very thankful for our colleague, Diwakar Khadka (Nepalese geotechnical engineer), for his perspective and time committed in showing our team sites of great importance around the Kathmandu Valley.


During their senior year at OSU, mechanical engineers, Brianna, Brian, and Grace, worked with TERREWODE, a Ugandan NGO and other partners in Oregon to enhance an income generating soap-making operation to benefit women in Uganda who suffer from obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula is a horrific condition that can occur during childbirth and is preventable with maternal medical care and intervention services. TERREWODE is not only working to treat these women, but also give them skills to to generate income and empower them.
This project is especially exciting because the idea to make soap actually came from TERREWODE’s founder, Alice Emasu.  Joni Kabana, a photographer from Portland, Oregon, brought a gift of goat milk soap made near her home in Eastern Oregon to TERREWODE. The women receiving the gift were extremely excited and Alice had the idea that they could make this soap and use it as a way to make an income.
So how do OSU engineering students fit in to this project? Brianna, Brian, and Grace were asked to apply engineering design principles and methods to test and evaluate potential soap-making process improvements and determine scalability. Through the course of their senior year at OSU, the team made numerous batches of soap, employing various techniques and strategies to not only create the best output, but also the best process which would be easy to reproduce in rural Uganda.
One of the most interesting aspects of this project was designing for the people and culture where this process will be used. Although rural Uganda does have electricity it can be very inconsistent. The team made it a goal to find a way to make the process functional off-grid and built a prototype solar paneled system using resources available in the US.

The team set off for Uganda during the summer of 2016, days after their graduation ceremony at OSU.  They spent three weeks working with TERREWODE and the women they support. During their stay, the team researched soap-making ingredient sourcing, available solar solutions, process enhancements, and potential fragrances.

While the women at TERREWODE made over 200 bars of soap, the team observed and analyzed the process to provide engineering feedback. Some adjustments to the soap-making process included the change in batch size, creation of templates for cutting the bars evenly, and recommendations for cooling/storage racks.  As a final deliverable, the team provided TERREWODE with an extensive written report regarding all the process adjustments and recommendations, suggestions for scalability, and solar solution recommendations.
Overall, the team had an incredible experience in Uganda! They want to thank the many OSU faculty and donors for the amazing opportunity.

NOTE: No photos of the TERREWODE obstetric fistula survivors were posted to respect their privacy.

During the faculty led research course to Guatemala, we spent several days in the stove factory owned outside of the city of Antigua, which is owned and operated by a local Guatemalan family.  Dr. MacCarty and several of the engineering students were completing stove testing of the new “Eco-plancha” model that the factory owner had developed.  I had the opportunity to help with and translate for the stove testers for two days while they were working to complete the Controlled Cooking Tests (CCT).  These tests utilize local cooks who are asked to cook the same meal on two types of stoves, in this case a basic three-stone open fire and the Eco-plancha model of interest.  After the meal is complete, the time spent, amount of firewood used, and weight of the food are recorded to allow comparison between the two stoves.  In addition to the technical measurements, we also interviewed the local cooks about their experiences and preferences.


The Three Eco-plancha stoves with cooks completing CCTs

Six local cooks participated in the CCTs, so three at a time on the traditional open-fire and the plancha stoves.  One thing that was interesting to me talking to the cooks is that the experience seemed to help them better understand the benefits of the plancha stove because they had the opportunity to see side-by-side the experiences of cooking on each type of stove.  For example, the three cooks that were working on the plancha stoves finished there tests much quicker than those that were working on the open fires, and they joked and teased each other about how those that used the open fire smelled smoky and had to work harder on their fires.  While all the women had plenty of experience having used both open-fires and the plancha model to cook in their homes, they had never had the opportunity to make that direct comparison between the two stoves.  It seemed to surprise them to see how different the two methods of cooking performed, and how much less smoke was produced by the plancha.  It was nice to be able to share that experience with local women who are part of the target audience of improved cook stove projects and for them to get to be included in the process of understanding the stove benefits.


One cook wore the backpack emissions monitor to compare smoke inhalation levels for the two stoves.


Another cook worked under this portable emissions monitor

One of my favorite memories of Guatemala is of playing soccer with some of the kids from the second village we visited. It was raining, and the field was half mud, but we played a pick up game (organized with very rudimentary Spanish and hand gestures) with three little boys and our guide, Katie, who was 10. Despite the haggard conditions of their field and the ball, which was kicked one too many times down a steep ditch and into the woods, it was a great game. I can’t remember who won, but I do remember that we all had a good time playing soccer. It was also so exciting to see and interact with some of the people that these cookstoves and  interviews and research are all aiming to help. Their potential and enthusiasm to succeed is so great, and should be unencumbered by a lack of transportation to school, or having to wonder how they will one day feed and support a family. Hopefully, our research will help with that. The picture below is some of us trying to negotiate a soccer game.


Welcome to the new blog for the Humanitarian Engineering Program at OSU. If you are a student, faculty, or otherwise interested person and would like to post an entry or comment, please email Professor Nordica MacCarty and she would be happy to add you as a user.