A group of students and faculty from the University of Kentucky College of Engineering-Paducah Campus recently returned from Uganda, where they worked with locals, visited the Nile and saw a lion in the wild.
The four-week trip by the UK Appropriate Technology and Sustainability Research Team started in July, when four students from Paducah -- Chandni Joshi Jangid, Rana Turkmani, Shelby Browning and Brett Quigley -- traveled to Uganda to help distribute low-cost processors that convert plastic waste into a diesel fuel substitute for an ongoing research project.
UKATS received fundraising help from the Rotary Club of Paducah and partnered with the Paducah-based outreach organization, Beyond Uganda, to find local families.
Dr. Jeffrey Seay, chemical engineering professor, led the group and spent time teaching a biomass conversion course to engineering students in Uganda. He called the trip successful.
"We had six of the processors manufactured in Nairobi (Kenya), brought to Kampala and we were able to place all six of them," he said. "The first one went to a cooperative of waste pickers, so these are people that have permits to come into the landfill in Kampala and they pick whatever people will buy."
Using the processor, certain types of waste plastic can be collected in a community and melted into the fuel substitute. It has an environmental component by reducing plastic waste and gives people the chance to start a business selling fuel.
"We worked with Beyond Uganda, so two of the processors went to families in Kampala and then they have a facility in the east part of the country, in a town called Bugiri, and we took three of the processors there," Seay said. "They brought in some women from the village and we trained them on how to run the processor."
The trip left a lasting impression on Turkmani, who is unique among the group, as it was her first time in Uganda, since her peers had visited at least once before. During her visit, Turkmani worked with Jangid on a survey of where plastic waste accumulates in a city for a side project to develop an assessment tool to estimate how much plastic is available in an urban or rural area, Seay explained.
Turkmani "definitely" wants to return to Uganda again one day, having met nice people and made friends she'd like to see again.
"I really enjoyed my trip to Africa and being able to experience it as well as some of the fun things I did," she told The Sun. "I wish I had started the research a lot earlier so I could have had more than one trip to Uganda, but considering I will be graduating this year, then I hope my next time there is for personal reasons, so that I could have more time to do fun, new things and first time experiences."
It was Jangid and Browning's fourth trip to Uganda, but Jangid particularly liked this visit because it was longer and allowed more time to get work done.
"It never goes according to plan," she said. "So, having more time means that if something does go wrong or haywire, you can fix it or at least get it somewhere."
Jangid enjoyed seeing people receive the processors.
"They were really excited to receive it and they seemed passionate about it, passionate about a solution," she said. "I think they were most excited that something like this could help them financially and personally."
Browning said her favorite part of the trip was the partnership with Beyond Uganda, seeing its work with local people and getting to work in the villages, while Quigley enjoyed Seay's class and meeting students from other countries.
It wasn't all work for Seay and the students though, as they took in a "game drive" at a park in Uganda and had the good fortune to see a lion in the wild. They also visited Murchison Falls, which is a waterfall that squeezes the Nile to a 7-meter width as the river flows over the falls.
"It was my first time at Murchison Falls and Murchison Falls is pretty eye-opening," Quigley said. "It's pretty cool."
The research team may be back stateside, but there is still work to be done as it tracks progress made with processors in Uganda over several months and eyes project expansion to other countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Nepal. It's in the process of getting the diesel fuel substitute certified by the Ugandan government too.
"That will really help because if people are going to do this as a business, if they're selling fuel, someone needs to know that it's a quality product," Seay said. "It's not going to damage their engine. It meets all the standard quality tests that you would expect."
Seay said around $14,000 was raised locally for the Uganda trip and called it a "culmination" of a lot of people working together and community support, whether it's from Rotary Club, Beyond Uganda or customers who bought fried Twinkies and Oreos at a Barbecue on the River booth.
"What I want the community to know is that their efforts are successful," he said. "There are now people in Uganda who are now operating this process and trying to make a business based on what they did."