Almost a quarter of the world’s population, or 1.5 billion people, are without electricity, according to a 2009 United Nations report, but a University of Minnesota student group is working to reduce that number.
At the Institute of Technology, the group Innovative Engineers is developing and building wind turbines out of less expensive materials. The turbines will then be brought to underdeveloped countries, where Innovative Engineers will teach the population how to progress with the renewable energy.
The mission of the group is to bring the turbines to countries that lack both electricity and the proper resources to develop it, according to Alejandro De la Mora, a civil engineering senior and president of the group.
De la Mora said modern countries have the technology to develop sources for renewable energy, but the needs for this energy expand far beyond developed nations.
“It is the entire planet’s problem, not just First World countries,” De la Mora said.
This problem cannot be solved by simply giving these countries a wind turbine, according to De la Mora, who said the group also has a necessary role in teaching these countries how to develop and even improve the turbines on their own.
“Once we show them how to build the turbines, we tell them to try improving them,” De la Mora said.
Sophomore mechanical engineering major Scott Morton said the biggest reason for the group’s formation lies in the ability to help these communities.
“I think members are very interested in building a wind turbine,” Morton said. “But I don’t think the whole project would have happened without a cause.”
Currently, the group is planning a trip to La Hermita, Nicaragua, where they will implement a 1-kilowatt wind turbine to a community that does not have electricity, according to De la Mora.
Through a partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers, which also helped develop the turbine, students will bring the turbine to Nicaragua this summer.
The group is working with the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria — a Nicaraguan university — and Inatec — a volunteering organization in Nicaragua — to implement the turbine.
Morton said getting to the point of having a turbine to introduce into a country, however, can be challenging.
Morton said the group is responsible for finding the resources and funding necessary with little help from the University.
“The University has a lot of equipment, but they have not made it very accessible,” Morton said.
Dr. Paul Imbertson, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the group’s adviser, said these difficulties make it unique from most student groups.
Imbertson said the majority of student groups have a project laid out for them with fixed funding, but he believes the way Innovative Engineers is set up provides them with exceptional experience.
“They have to decide when to show up, what task they are going to do and how they are going to do it,” Imbertson said.
Morton said he hopes to make these questions easier to answer in the future.
“With my project, I want to figure out exactly how to get things done around campus,” Morton said. “With this, the next group that comes around will have a known way to do things.”
The next group that comes around is an area of focus for the Innovative Engineers.
De la Mora said the group is going to start talking to introductory classes about the projects they are working on.
“We want to make Innovative Engineers a group that stays,” De la Mora said. “We want it to be on the top of IT groups.”
Morton said their recruiting does not stop with first-year college students. In fact, a high school will be touring the group’s facility Saturday.
“I think it’s important to let people know that you can be a part of something when they come to this University,” Morton said. “We are investing in the future of this club.”
Along with being the group’s adviser, Imbertson is also a large part of the group’s inspiration.
Imbertson was the faculty member guiding some of the future group’s members while studying abroad in Scandinavia.
The May-term global seminar course was focused on renewable energies, but some students walked away with more than added technical knowledge, Imbertson said.
“After the course, they were able to couple something they find terribly interesting with an understanding of how it can shape the future.”
For Morton, it was the motivation he needed.
“[Imbertson] added his philosophy of what is wrong and what needs to be changed,” Morton said. “For me, that was it.”
The group, which was formed in August 2009, has the motivation they need, and now they are planning to build bigger than they ever have.
Along with his fellow seniors in the group, De la Mora said they are developing a 10-kilowatt wind turbine with construction to begin next semester.
The group asked for help from Fotis Sotiropoulos, professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, and the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.
Sotiropoulos, who is a director at the laboratory, said they had recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for $8 million. The grant required the laboratory to fulfill a curriculum aspect that could be assisted by partnering up with the student group.
Sotiropoulos said he looks forward to working with the group.
“I saw their passion,” Sotiropoulos said. “They are using their engineering talent to help people. That is what engineering is all about.”
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
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