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BME undergrad Miguel Dias wins at 2015 Social Venture Challenge at CGI U

April 24, 2015
Three students stand together for a picture.

Biomedical engineering undergraduate Miguel Dias ’17, and Johns Hopkins engineering students Samantha (Yu) Wang ’17 and Yadel Okorie ’17 have been selected as winners of the 2015 Social Venture Challenge at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) conference for their project Bright Energy Africa.

The Social Venture Challenge is an international business plan-style competition, designed to inspire students to develop solutions to pressing social issues around the world. This year the competition received close to 200 applications.

The Johns Hopkins team received the highest amount of funding, and is now part of the selective Resolution Fellowship program that provides ongoing mentorship with industry leaders, pro-bono support, and access to a network of over 600 social entrepreneurs.

Bright Energy Africa is a result of biomedical engineering undergraduate Miguel Dias’ two-month internship in Tanzania last summer. Miguel quickly became aware of the common use of charcoal as the fuel of choice for household cooking. This indoor cooking method produced a thick smoke that permeated the home, and made breathing difficult.

Dias learned of a smokeless fuel alternative made from agricultural waste being used in Kenya. The combination of an environmentally friendly, readily available, and ultimately healthier cooking solution was an idea ripe for adoption by the Tanzanian population.

A male works outside.

Together with his intern advisor, Violet Ayoub of Tanzania, Miguel devised a new briquette-burning kiln that converts readily-available agricultural waste into “biomass charcoal” briquettes. His smokeless, high fuel density briquette burns 35% longer, is 40% cheaper than traditional fuel sources and are a healthier and safer alternative.

Less than a year later, Dias is now the technology, research and development director of Bright Energy Africa. After having employed fellow Whiting School of Engineering sophomores Samantha “Yu” Wang and Yadel Okorie to aid him in his venture, the company’s ecologically-friendly and cost-effective kiln and briquetting technology is being made available to the African nations’ population. Bright Energy Africa is providing training, kiln leasing and briquetting technology to farmers, as well as marketing training for retailers.

For the next several months, the goal is to use the $5,000 in seed funds to get the pilot production plant up and running in Arusha, Tanzania. The team continues to seek other methods of fundraising as well as entering other competitions.

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