icipe BioInnovate Africa and the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, USA, are collaborating to build capacity for technoeconomic analysis (TEA) of innovation projects in eastern Africa, through a six-month fully funded tailormade online course. The course was jointly established in 2019 and aims at providing human resource development to assess potential economic feasibilities, bottlenecks and to identify further research and development requirements during early stages of biobased technologies, with real world application being in the developing country setting.
The course is administered by the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, USA and specifically led by Prof Lee Lynd and Prof Mark Laser. “We deliver the TEA course using a combination of asynchronous prerecorded material and in-class Zoom sessions, as well as homework assignments, reflections by guest speakers from varied fields of profession, a term project, and a final exam,” says Prof Lee Lynd, the course convener.
The course addresses the application of TEA to evaluate the profitability and broader social and environmental impact of potential business ventures involving technologies located in developing countries. It also provides in-depth exposure to the design of processes featuring chemical and biochemical transformations including integration of unit operations, simulation of system performance, sensitivity analysis, system-level optimization, and process economics and investment return.
“Expanding TEA capabilities within Eastern Africa supports evaluation of the various BioInnovate Africa supported projects, enabling BioInnovate Africa to quantify impact of each project or technology,” says Dr Julius Ecuru, head of BioInnovate Africa.
The course considers aspects that most developing countries face such as inadequate infrastructure, financing limitations, and weaknesses in the enforcement of government policies and standards and enables students to participate in improving these systems in their respective localities using TEA concepts.
“As a result, students undertaking the course are able to learn valuable experiences that have potential to help spawn sustainable project development in their countries and enhance the wellbeing of many,” says Prof Mark Laser, lead faculty for the course.
Eligible applicants for the course are students who have enrolled for a master’s or a Ph.D. programme at a university in any of the Eastern African countries of Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Students applying for the course are required to submit their resume, an essay that demonstrates their interest in techno-economic analysis and how it is relevant to their ongoing studies, and a nomination letter from their supervisor or a professor or the head of their department. Applying students must have reliable computing and internet connectivity speed to be used for the course. The selection process is competitive and gives preference to well demonstrated interest for the course and application of the skills to be learnt, as well as technical background in chemical engineering, quantitative analysis, and biotechnology. Female students are encouraged to apply for the course. The selected students interact with other international students enrolled for the course at Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, USA.
So far, eight students from Eastern African University have completed the course in cohort I (January to June 2021) and cohort II (January to June 2022), and there is prospect for future cohorts. Call for applications for the next intake can be accessed here.
We feature below the experiences of the eight students who successfully completed the course:
Brenda Okoko, Kenya; cohort I student
My name is Brenda Atieno Okoko. I am a student currently pursuing a master’s degree in Chemistry at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. My research entails isolation, screening, and characterisation of biocatalysts for industrial applications, specifically in the textile industry. I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity through my supervisor and mentor, Prof Francis Mulaa. Having undertaken technological units during both my undergraduate and master’s degree programmes, I was eager to grasp new ideas in addition to sharing a scientific platform with various students from different parts of the world. My most exciting experience during the six-month TEA course was receiving guest lectures from different sectors of technology; for instance, Prof Lee Lynd, one of the guest speakers, was able to bring out the sustainability revolution of fuels from the historical moments to present. His focus on the energy sector, especially biofuel production from cellulosic materials, is an emerging biotechnology. I was able to have a deeper understanding about bioenergy. Another highlight was during the break room interaction sessions with other students – Louisa and Isabella from Brazil, Devon from the USA, Nadege from Burundi, and Raymond from Uganda – with whom I conducted a research project on the TEA of vermicomposting technology. From the skills and knowledge acquired during the course, I plan to collaborate with a fellow PhD student, to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) test on his project involving the ‘de-haring of animal skin using enzymes for upscale in the industry’. To future TEA students, it is important to be humble and willing to continue learning. Education is a never-ending endeavor. The journey is worth it!
Grace Okiror, Uganda; cohort ll student
My name is Grace Okiror. I am an agricultural engineer and I hold a Ph.D. in Biosystems Engineering from Oklahoma State University. I currently working as a lecturer at the department of biosystems engineering at Gulu University, Uganda. I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity through an announcement distributed to the BioInnovate Africa project partners institutions. A project partner of BioInnovate Africa at Gulu University shared it widely at the institution and I got a hold of it. I was inspired to apply mainly because of the offer to learn new tools used in process design and technoeconomic analyses, and I was also gearing to start training master’s degree students in biosystems engineering. One of the sections is process engineering and I was eager to obtain all the latest skills and tools to help me deliver the programme. I particularly enjoyed learning new tools for process simulation and analysis (DWSIM) and sharing experiences with different experts from other parts of the world. This opened my eyes to the possibilities in technoeconomic analysis, especially in relation to chemical process design for energy applications. I am currently using the skills I learnt in this course to conduct technoeconomic analysis of a community small scale biorefinery for sorghum syrup in Adjumani district, in northern Uganda. I plan to use the knowledge and skills to train graduate students in biosystems engineering and to conduct research in chemical process design, especially in the field of bioethanol production from different feedstocks in my community. I highly recommend this course. Successful students should have running projects in process design and technoeconomic analysis to obtain the most benefit, since the course is highly practical. I also encourage the students to be very committed since the course is semester structured and time management is crucial for success. I also recommend that it would be best for students already enrolled in other institutions to take some time off to focus on this course. My experience as a student taking the TEA course while being a fulltime employee with various work and family assignments proved to be very stressful.
James Okoya, Uganda; cohort ll student
My name is James Okoya. I am an engineer and assistant lecturer at Gulu University, Uganda, where I teach and supervise students research on biogas technology, waste recycling and the development of biogas plants. Although my bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering and master’s degree in food security and community nutrition have laid my foundation in diverse research areas, the global challenges of climate change and energy security in Africa particularly Uganda, exemplifies the need for more to be done in the area of renewable energy. I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity through the internet on BioInnovate Africa website, as well as from Dr Richard Echodu of Gulu University. I was inspired to apply for the online course as it aligned with my profession, and I liked that it has international students. The course was interesting and participatory; it prepares students to address specific problems of the world. For me, the most exciting part of the course were the analysis of economic viability of projects using TEA and simulation modelling. The course also built my network locally and internationally with students from Makerere University, Prof Mark Laser, Dartmouth college students, colleagues in India as well as BioInnovate Africa management. The program instilled in me lessons on teamwork, time management and sharing ideas and the importance of determination, commitment, and being a dynamic individual. As a lecturer, I am using the knowledge acquired in TEA to develop a concept on economic viability and material flows analysis of green charcoal technology in northern Uganda. Green charcoal is briquette obtained from carbonized organic residues of agricultural wastes. Green charcoal can supplement the use of traditional charcoal in the region to reduce deforestation, greenhouse gas emission, land degradation, and biodiversity loss. Students with background in processing engineering, chemical engineering and biotechnology are the most potential candidates for the course. The course prepares students to work in diverse fields including petroleum, industries, projects, and research sectors; and its application contributes to personal and societal development.
Joel Wakatuntu, Uganda; cohort ll student
My name is Joel Wakatuntu. I hold a master’s degree in renewable energy engineering and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity from my supervisor Dr Peter Olupot. The course came at a time when I was trying to investigate feasibility of the technology of bio-oil generation from rice husk waste. My desire to understand the analysis of the technology for its economic, environment, and societal impact inspired me to apply for the course. Every lecture commenced with refreshment of historical knowledge in chemical engineering. We were introduced to process simulation, and mass and energy balance where I had the opportunity to learn two new great simulators in DWSIM and Aspen plus. My report writing skills in TEA were also sharpened. The first semester of the course covered economic analysis and profitability assessment, and I learnt about the money aspect and that a sucessful project should wholesomely and in a sustainable way benefit the community, conserve their social setting and preserve the environment. In the second semester, we heard and learnt from experienced guest speakers who are positively impacting change in communities around the world. Through the course, I gained knowledge in model engineering and chemical processes, and I am able to carry out socio-economic and environmental analyses of projects in any sector. I advise potential students to take up the TEA course opportunity as the skills offered are necessary in engineering.
Nadege Mugisha, Burundi; cohort I student
My name is Nadege Mugisha. I am an assistant lecturer in electrical and electronics courses at the University of Burundi, and currently enrolled for a Ph.D. degree at the doctoral school of the University of Burundi. I am a member of BioInnovate Africa fellows alumnae network (BA-FAN). I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity via an e-mail sent to all members of the BA-FAN. At the time of application, we had a research topic related to the feasibility study of biogas generation by the conversion of municipal waste in Bujumbura. The course was relevant to equip me with knowledge needed for conducting the study. My most exciting experience with the TEA course was the discovery of the existence and the efficiency of software which perform technoeconomic analyses. Another interesting experience was listening to our professors and expert guests from academia, industry, and other professional environments, and who shared with us knowledge on various topics related to engineering for human and scientific development of the world. I had an opportunity to apply what I learnt from the course in a TEA study for a BioInnovate Africa project titled ‘Disinfestation of fruits and vegetables using hot water immersion treatment technique’. I plan to collaborate more with researchers to apply the knowledge acquired from the course. I would strongly encourage students to undertake the TEA course, as it will enable them to establish accurate budgets and evaluate profitability in the early stages of project implementation.
Sammy Chebon, Kenya; cohort I student
My name is Sammy Kiplagat Chebon. I have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Industrial Chemistry from the University of Nairobi, and currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the same institution. For both my master’s and Ph.D. projects, I ventured into biotechnology and bioeconomy where I have used enzymes from microbes to extract usable products from animal waste. I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity through one of my supervisors, Prof Francis Mulaa, who is a project partner of BioInnovate Africa. He shared the opportunity and encouraged me to apply. Being an industrial chemist, I desired to learn more about an industrial start up, calculation of capital and operational costs, determining profitability, determining efficiency of a process as well as environmental impact. My expectation at first was that I was going to exclusively learn about economic aspects such as capital and operation costs as well as profitability determination. In the first semester however, we studied chemical process design which was so exciting for me being an industrial chemist. Under it, we covered interesting topics such as the use of the Aspen software and how to use it, various reactor types, process flow diagrams, energy and material balance, and separation design among others. Through the course, I also managed to link up and form networks with people from all over the world. I made friends with other students from Brazil, Burundi, Ethiopia, and the USA. In the near future, when I have raised some capital, I plan on starting my own industry and put into use the information obtained from the TEA course. I advise students to apply for the course. It is so informative and educative. Once you succeed in taking the course, read and research more on it. Do not simply rely on content from the lecturer. At the end of it, your knowledge will be extensive.
Tadeo Mibulo, Uganda; cohort ll student
My name is Tadeo Mibulo. I graduated recently with a master’s degree in agricultural engineering from Makerere University, Uganda. I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity from Prof John Muyonga, who is a project partner of BioInnovate Africa. From the course, I learnt new skills, including how to generate leading questions that guide the final assessment of any business venture. The course provided detailed study about modeling the questions, conducting a material and energy balance, and the economics of the business. The course had guest speakers’ sessions, which were very informative and made me appreciate what we were taught in class. The mini-grid lecturers by Andrew Allee, Stephen Doig, and Nathan Williams contributed to my understanding on community-based energy supply. The knowledge shared by these lecturers guides me as I continue to research further on my work from master’s level involving fruit wastes (peels) for biogas production, and in another project where I am also involved in energy generation from agricultural wastes. I would urge students with projects in chemical engineering and related fields to apply for the TEA course.
Timothy Tibegiswa, Uganda; cohort ll student
My name is Timothy Tibesigwa. I am an engineer by profession, working as an assistant commissioner for mechanical engineering services at the ministry of works and transport in Uganda. I hold a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Makerere University and a master’s in business administration from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Makerere University. I learnt about the BioInnovate Africa and Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College TEA course opportunity through the department of mechanical engineering at Makerere University. I was inspired to apply for the course because its content related well with my Ph.D. research. The course greatly enhanced my knowledge, understanding, and skills in evaluating technical and economic aspects of projects; well-designed processes and technical aspects impact overall profitability of a project. The course further highlighted the importance of considering the triple bottom line concept in evaluating project viability. The concept requires projects or firms to measure social and environmental impacts and profits to evaluate their viability or performance. The course was conducted through class lectures, which provided a strong foundation that enabled me to increase my understanding of TEA in general; guest speaker sessions, which were very educative and demonstrated the practical application of TEA in the real business world; and project teams, which was an excellent opportunity to apply our learning from the TEA course by formulating and carrying out TEA on a real-life project. During the project teams’ presentation, good advice was given, which helps to improve results when doing similar TEAs in the future.
The course enabled me to establish links and networks with fellow students and faculty. Contacts were shared by course facilitators especially those of the distinguished guest speakers we had. The course has enabled me to have a direction regarding my Ph.D. research study in which I am carrying out a techno-economic assessment of the viability of production of biodiesel from second generation feedstocks in Uganda. My day-to-day work involves evaluating and recommending technical projects for implementation, and with the knowledge I gained from the course, TEA will be a critical component of the steps I will follow going forward. I also will be actively involved in any available renewable energy projects and make concept papers/proposals for funding new renewable energy/biofuels projects. TEA is a crucial course as it exposes the student to a multi-criteria approach in assessing projects. It combines the technical, economic, social, and environmental aspects. It is vital to actively participate in class, group projects, and guest talks throughout the course. Read through all materials shared before and during the course. This will guarantee a smooth and exciting study experience.