Humanitarian Engineering for Development Workers (ERE 496)


The news article Agriculture Fuels Renewable Energy in India’s Rice Belt through Husk Power Systems by Feed the Future Newsletter (sponsored by OPIC) was written on November 22, 2013 about Husk Power Systems. The organization designed, installed and operated as a biomass based power plant on a small scale, for rural villages in India but needed funding from OPIC in the form of a $750,000 loan to implement the solution. The specific issue of the article is that approximately 125,000 small rural villages in India lack access to electricity. In the beginning of the article, the author says only 1/3 of India is without access to electricity. According to International Energy Statistics, the total energy consumption for India was 23.611 Quadrillion Btu but the total production for the country was 16.015 quadrillion. Although this is not a direct comparison, we can assume the country is not using all the energy it is producing (nor solely consuming what it produces), but there is still that gap between supply and demand, leaving approximately 1/3 of the population without electricity. By converting rice husks into energy, the solution is appropriate in terms of cost because according to a separate Fast Company article, each system costs $750 that can power 400-500 households for 7-8 hours per day; required Labor because a village manager needs to estimate the power use of each household to set up the appropriate connection to the power station; maintenance because each household needs to be connected through a main line to the power station; cultural because according to the article, in 2007 India produced 141 million tons of rice. For every ton of rice produced, there are a quarter ton of rice husks which would be put into a landfill.  Since there is such a large supply of husks, this technology is appropriate; and design because the design Husk Power Systems’ process for making electricity form biomass is based on gasification. Rice husks are heated to high temperatures, decomposing into a mix of combustible gases. The gases can then burn to produce heat or steam that activates


The millennium development goals to be reached by this solution are to ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

Since the rice husks are being recycled and would normally be wasted, the design solution is sustainable. Also, the U.S. funded the project, a global partnership has been made since the U.S is helping to see electricity be gained by people in need. The use of this technology will increase access to electricity and this relationship will change the comfort of living for people currently without power. Referencing Figure 2, there is an expected increase in rice production by the end of 2014, therefore increasing the amount of rice husks being produced. By having a large amount of the rice husks available, there could be more Husk Power Systems built or those systems can be built to larger capacity with more fuel.


Instead of increasing the amount of electricity available, another solution would be to create a light source that does not require a traditional energy source (Figure 3). “A homemade solar lamp for developing countries” references a new system developed by a Swiss start-up called LEDsafari. The cost is dependent of the materials, which consists of an electrical wire, a mobile phone battery, empty bottles. The lamp can be made by anyone with locally found equipment and a solar panel light bulb, which can be flown in by the company. The bulb requires five to six hours of charging in the sun to work for five hours of light. Training workshops have already been implemented to provide a smooth cultural acceptance and the design is meant to be extremely simple.

Figure 1 (Nerenberg)

Figure 1 (Nerenberg)


Figure 2 (oryza)

Figure 2 (oryza)

Figure 3 (EPFL, 2014)

Figure 3 (EPFL, 2014)


EPFL. (2014). A homemade solar lamp for developing countries. R & D, 1. Retrieved from


OPIC. (2013). Agriculture Fuels Renewable Energy in India’s Rice Belt through Husk Power Systems. Feed the Future Newsletter.

Oryza. (n.d.). India Government Projects 2013-14 Rice Production at Record 106.19 Million Tons – See more India government projects 2013-14 rice production record 106.19 million tons. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

U.S. Energy Information Administration. (n.d.). International Energy Statistics. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from