Engineering project hopes to help agricultural communities in the Philippines

Decomber 05, 2016

Rachel Librach

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     Students are frequently given the opportunity to make a difference in some way after graduation, but one group of students is getting a head start now.

     Senior engineering students Levi Mallonee, Cristina Pollock, Caleb Lockhart and Hamad Alzamanan are developing a way to convert cacao plant husks to fertilizer for communities in the Philippines as part of Lutheran World Relief.

     Lutheran World Relief, a nongovernmental organization that provides sustainable solutions to impoverished countries, partnered with the UCCS Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering three years ago to give students the opportunity to work with foreign communities.

     The team’s solution can be applied to other vegetable and fruit plantations to help the agricultural industry in the Philippines, said Mallonee.

     “Just to have that opportunity to create a solution for something that big would be great. Especially in the Philippines where our project covers a huge part of the agriculture system,” he said.

     “We can be the next group to impact an entire country, maybe the entire world, because even though the Philippines is one of the largest producers of cacao plants, the industry has really expanded to all different parts of the world.”

     The group will make two trips to the Philippines to assess the area’s resources. In January, the group will focus on research, according to Mallonee.

     “Our trip in January is mainly going to be focusing on problem specification; that’s where we can really grasp how our design will impact the culture, what the locals want and if they agree with some of our basic ideas,” said Mallonee.

     The team will focus on testing their product on the second trip during spring break. Based on their findings, they will make adjustments and work toward producing an efficient solution.

     “We have to find out a way to efficiently transport, dry out and burn the husks so that the farmers will be pleased and they won’t have to spend too much extra time, effort or money to acquire this,” said Mallonee.

     Resources, such as farming equipment, may not be readily available in the Philippines, said Mallonee.

     “To turn cacao husks into animal fodder, you need to crush it and shred it. Having a shredder available for this purpose would be very convenient; however, I really doubt that these small family farms are going to be able to afford this equipment,” said Mallonee.

     The team came up with an alternative to a shredder by crushing husks with their hands or burning and drying the husks out to make up for the lack of materials.

     Mallonee hopes that the project will affect the Philippines in a positive way and that he can gain valuable experience in helping others.

     “If this is successful and I am able to gain a career for non-profit engineering, I would love to be able to do that.”