Developing world projects toast of the town

Pupils learning onboard a floating classroom, Bangladesh Copyright: Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, Bangladesh

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Project teams from nine developing countries were awarded for their innovative approaches to sustainable energy last night (21 June).

The Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, held in London, United Kingdom, awarded ventures from Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Tanzania first prizes of US$60,000 each to further their schemes. Projects from Ghana, India, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines were awarded second place prizes of US$20,000.

Projects ranged from solar-powered home systems and mini-hydropower plants for remote villages, to food waste and dung biogas plants for urban areas.

One of the first-prize winners, the Beijing Shenzhou Daxu Bio-energy Technology Company from China, has developed a new biomass stove that burns agricultural waste and wood instead of coal.

The stove is 40 per cent more efficient than conventional stoves and produces little smoke, decreasing the problem of indoor air pollution for rural Chinese people. The stove reduces the cost of cooking and heating by 50 per cent, and can be fitted with a boiler, bringing hot water and central heating to homes, some for the first time.

Pan Shijiao, one of the founders of the company, points out that there are many benefits to the stove, including health and environmental ones.

A biomass stove produces eight tonnes of carbon dioxide less in a year than a coal stove. This can have a major impact on climate change, Pan says, especially if the stoves are used throughout China and other developing countries.

Another winner designed a fleet of solar-powered boats to deliver education and supplies to the remote Chalanbeel region of Bangladesh.

The locally produced boats provide floating classrooms for primary level schoolchildren, and are equipped with a library and Internet access.

"Bangladesh is a land of water, and during the five month monsoon season two-fifths of the country is flooded," says the organisation’s executive director, Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan. "Children can’t go to school, so we thought the school should come to them."

The boats also bring training in sustainable agriculture to local farmers —surveys suggest this has increased their income by up to 45 per cent.

With the prize money, Rezwan and colleagues plan to design a new, all-purpose boat, containing all the facilities in one vessel.

"Due to climate change, over the next 20 years, ten per cent of our land will be lost to floods," says Rezwan. "Issues like this need local solutions, and local people need to be involved at every level."

The Ashden Awards were set up in 2001 to award and promote local sustainable energy solutions in the developing world and the UK.