Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Project in Honduras

In five days I leave for Honduras again.  Six engineering students and I will be at the Promise Home orphanage working on infrastructure projects.  This year we will be doing some electrical wiring for security lights as well as designing and testing a solar hot water heater.  They need a lot of hot water. An outrageous amount.

As part of their plan to be financially self-sustaining before they start taking in orphans, they have constructed several large concrete tanks in which to raise tilapia (the fish) to sell.  And it seems that the tilapia don't like cold water.  They grow much more slowly in cooler water.

"Hey mister, turn up the heat already. I'm freezin' in here!"

In fact, they grow about 10% slower for every 2 degrees F cooler than the optimal temperature, which is about 82 F.  And since this supposed to be is a money-making gig, not just an over sized aquarium, slow growing fish translates to less money.

Every day, they add fresh water to the tanks.  This water comes from a local river and has a temperature about 10 F below what the fish like.  So we are trying to help them slightly warm the temperature of this fresh water.  Sound easy?

The hard part is they need to warm 60,000 gallons a day!  That's the equivalent of an Olympic sized swimming pool every day and a half!

So we got together and started brainstorming about how to do this. We tossed around ideas like using a small fusion reactor, or buying 2000 hot water heaters from Home Depot and packing them in our luggage.  Nothing seemed practical.

But in Honduras they have an abundance of sunshine and humidity.  We can't use the humidity, but I think we can build a prototype solar hot water heater like one that might be used to heat a swimming pool.  But we can't build it all at once. Our plan is to build a prototype unit that can be replicated, perhaps many times, in order to get it big enough to heat the 60,000 gallons needed per day.

That's the goal. We have two weeks to do it.  More tomorrow.

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