[WISCTV] Students Aim to Provide Electricity to Homes in Developing Countries

Channel3000.com (April 28, 2010) — A group of University of Wisconsin–Madison students have developed a system to help give those in developing countries electricity in their homes.

UW-Madison electrical engineering graduate student Dan Ludois was looking for a way to provide power to people in developing countries without any.

“People want to be able to have a light so they can read at night. Or in many cases it’s a tropical environment, and it’d be really nice to have a window fan,” Ludois said.

Ludois got a couple of friends together and started to figure out how to use parts from microwaves that no longer work.

“This thing in the center is the part we take out of the microwave, and that’s called the transformer,” Ludois said, while showing the part from a microwave. “It’s repurposing an old component from something you’re going to throw away, and that’s something I really have fun doing.”

The part is installed into old paint cans, which look like scaled down versions of the transformers on power poles.

The system is attached to a generation source, passes power down the line, and ends at outlets in homes.

Ludois said it’s a low-watt system that meets a need and costs far less.

“We’re reducing from approximately $500 to about $65 or $70,” Ludois said.

The system is dubbed the microformer, and last week the team’s ingenuity won them $50,000 in the Climate Leadership Challenge. They’ll use the money to test and install the system in a nation in need.

“It’s really providing a service they don’t really have — electricity. They don’t even have one outlet,” said Jonathan Lee, a UW-Madison graduate student on the team.

Lee has done prior work with UW-Madison’s Engineers without Borders program.

“They feel you’re taking a lot of time. They feel that you have a lot of kindness toward them,” Lee said.

The group’s third member, Patricio Mendoza, is from Chile. For that reason, Chile, along with Haiti, are under consideration as countries to install the system.

The group plans to do more testing before trying to install its project in a year or so. The students said they’re ideally looking for is a small community in a rural area, ideally between 10 to 50 homes, that’s in an area that has some sort of power generation source at a community center or church they can take advantage of.

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