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Engineers Without Borders/BYU Chapter
BYU students and professors in Engineers Without Borders helped residents of Salkantay, Peru, create a better water system.

PROVO — Who would have ever thought working with llama dung could be a fun, inspirational learning opportunity?

That was just one project students with Brigham Young University's chapter of Engineers Without Borders participated in while visiting Peru for humanitarian service in May.

The students built stoves and water systems, as well as incorporating fuel processes. Besides having the opportunity to put their academic knowledge to use in real-life problem-solving, these students were able to participate in the local culture.

Engineers Without Borders is an international organization of volunteer engineers who do projects worldwide to change communities and better people's lives.

Eighteen BYU students and four advisers went to Salkantay, Peru, from April 28 to May 14. Their humanitarian project was organized by Eagle Condor Humanitarian, based in Salt Lake City.

The students paid $1,100 on their own with BYU paying the remainder of the $2,500 travel cost through alumni donations.

Salkantay is a small village in a mountainous region of southern Peru. The village is just over 13,000 feet elevation. And there are approximately 2,000 llamas living there along with the village's population of 30 families.

The students worked throughout the school year to prepare for the project. They are from all engineering disciplines, including mechanical, civil, chemical and electrical. The class is called "Global Projects in Engineering and Technology."

The students divided into five teams, each of which focused on one particular area: energy efficiency, water collection, water distribution, stoves and fuel.

The efficiency group looked at sealing windows, improving insulation and better using energy. One of the major improvements made was to use the heat produced for cooking to heat water for bathing. This was done by coiling copper tubing around the inside of the stove. The tubing was connected to a water tank, and convection was used to move the water through the tubing and heat the water in the tank.

There was also a solar water-heating process. "It's really neat. It doesn't need a motor or anything," said Jared Gedes, 23, of Seattle, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.

The water collection group capped a spring and installed piping to get the water to tanks.

The distribution group designed a pipe system that would effectively deliver water from the tanks to many of the homes.

About 10 villagers helped the students dig trenches for the pipes. They dug 1,200 feet in one day, the length of four football fields.

"They are good, hard workers," said BYU chemical engineering professor Vincent Wilding.

The stove group had its work cut out for it. Currently, Salkantay residents burn llama dung in open pit fires over which pots of water are heated. Their diet consists mainly of soup and boiled potatoes.

The stove group introduced a more efficient combustion process using the llama dung and wood to increase the amount of heat provided per unit mass of fuel and to remove the hazardous products of combustion from the living quarters.

"Their stoves just fill up their homes with smoke," said Ben Richards, 24, of Kalispell, Mont., a junior majoring in mechanical engineering.

"Their ceilings are covered in soot," Richards said. "The children have respiratory problems from the smoke exposure."

The students built a prototype stove, with a flue, to reduce the smoke. The water heating mechanism developed by the efficiency group was also successfully tested with the improved stove.

The fuel group converted the llama dung into methane. The students created a reactor that would speed up the conversion rate. Exposing the reactor to direct sunlight increased the speed even more.

"We actually built the reactor on campus before we went to Peru. The students came up with the final design," said BYU chemical engineering professor Randy Lewis.

The reactor is surrounded by adobe walls painted black inside and topped with plastic, much like a greenhouse, he said.

Two spouses of engineering students paid their own way to go on the trip. They collected and delivered maternity, school and hygiene kits, along with clothing and hygiene coloring books to share with Salkantay residents.

"That had just as much effect on the people as did all the engineering projects," Richards said. "It was amazing to see the expressions on the women's and children's faces."

E-mail: astewart@desnews.com