Human-Centered Biogas for Small Scale Rwandan Farmers
A feasibility study aimed at assessing the implementation of biogas technology utilizing a participatory human-centered-design approach by considering the social and cultural needs of small-scale farming communities in Kayonza, Rwanda. The following project was the culmination of a two year masters thesis research project at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Ga. For a full description of the of the research process, please reach out.
Support: Georgia Institute of Technology, Prof. Wendell Wilson, Prof. Dr. Valerie Thomas, Prof. Dr. Cassandra Telenko, Mr. Paul Rugambwa, Ms. Fese Epie
Funding: Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation
Date Completed: May 2017
Awards: Georgia Tech CRIDC Travel Award, C3E Women in Clean Energy 3rd Place
Key to Rwanda's progress is the advancement its shareholder farmers whom constitute 85% of the workforce. Farmers are often energy insecure and rarely connected to electric grids. Charcoal or wood is used as a cooking substitute but poses risks such as air pollution and deforestation. The government has highlighted biogas energy as a solution but uptake is not occurring the desired rate. Ethnographic research conducted identified barriers to biogas usage including cost, functionality, education, and cultural preferences. Continued design research focused on the design of a new biogas system addressing user concerns and improving aspects of the product and system to increase value while mitigating risk. Design development focused on the use of participatory and human centered design methods and collaboration from local, national and international stakeholders. Design decisions were guided by these users and the complex ecosystem they are a part of to yield a more culturally competent design.
USER LIFESTYLE NOTES
BIOGAS SYSTEM USAGE
BARRIERS TO BIOGAS USAGE
Following research synthesis, product sketching and model making was performed. Based on insights developed, product form factor was driven by designs that could be built with locally found materials in Rwanda. The majority of this work was done in the United states but validated with users in Rwanda via Skype and email.
Fabrication & User Testing
In April of 2017, I returned to Rwanda and facilitated a weeklong design build workshop. In the first half of the week, we visited local retailers to gather parts. In the second half, a group of local trades people helped construct a functional prototype. On the last day, the team got the feedback of 10 Kayonza farmers.
USER TESTING QUESTIONS
Looking ahead, future work will focus on the improvement of the biogs in 6 key areas. These include: system efficiency, usability, training how to use and build, engaging more community, developing business models and increasing the security of the design. The insights are based off of initial feasibility testing. Additionally, future work will be guided by 4 overarching gaols. This includes creating a culture of design, looking for funding sources, building collaborative partnerships and increasing community participation. These will compliment the more technical improvements gathered in user testing.