Engineering is problem solving – as demonstrated by this young civil engineer in Senegal

Posted by Derek Mason

8th June 2021

Photo credit: Ina Makosi

What do you do when your country’s farmers are regularly forced to sell their crops at below market rate, because they have no way to store them? And when a portion of these crops are always wasted, because they can only be stored for one or two weeks before they perish?

Marie Ndieguene, a young civil engineer in Senegal, has developed a new construction technique which will enable crops to be stored for months rather than days. The I3S solution uses diverted landfill waste to create cooler storage for farmers.

There are three advantages to this:

  1. Farmers are not forced to sell their harvests immediately, giving them the opportunity to command a fair price for their crops,
  2. This storage reduces temperatures by more than five degrees Celsius, so potatoes can be stored for three months and onions for six months, compared with one to two weeks previously, cutting down on post-harvest loss,
  3. Materials destined for landfill are being repurposed, reducing waste and pollution.

Ms Ndieguene’s solution involves using tyres to build the foundations, tyres and bottles for the walls, and soil to cover the storage facility.

This inspiring engineer is one of 16 African innovators receiving eight months of tailored training and mentoring via the UK-based Royal Academy of Engineering. The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation supports Africans to develop engineering solutions to local challenges. This enables the development of life-changing technologies that might otherwise have failed to get off the ground.

In a showcase event, later in the year, Ms Ndieguene’s solution will be presented alongside her peers’ solutions. The winner will receive £25,000 and three runners up will be awarded £10,000.

This story highlights the ability of forward-thinking engineers to solve problems, large and small – and to come up with solutions that can be used widely. If this design works in Senegal, it will work in other nations with similar challenges around storing crops.

It’s particularly interesting that soil is being used here. People forget that soil has insulating properties, and it’s a good choice of material for use in this case. The soil functions as a thermic envelope, and thermic exchange between this envelope and the exterior wall keeps things cooler inside the storage space.

For 95% of farmers in Senegal, storage is a major challenge, and the two storage units built so far have impacted the lives of 2300 families in two communities. As well as ensuring that more than 20,000 tyres and 30,000 bottles have been recycled, 245 tonnes of potatoes and onions have been preserved. Let’s hope this level of impact can be mirrored in other communities across Senegal and beyond.

As this demonstrates, engineering is essentially problem-solving, so if you have a structural challenge that needs to be solved, please do get in touch.

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