Paint it Black

Recycled painted soda cans and the desert sun create sustainable central heating for village

The solar heating system is constructed from used soda cans, which are then painted black

By Amanda Jaffe-Katz

When you think of the desert, you first conjure up images of heat. But in Israel's Negev, the harsh climate also includes uncomfortably cold winters.

So, when the Negev group of Technion's Engineers Without Borders (EWB) led by Angel Sussman established contact with the Bedouin settlement of Abu-Ashibe, and learned how this off-grid community would most appreciate a safe and easily obtainable means to heat the village kindergarten, the student team set about finding an optimal solution.

"We spoke to members of the community and understood that their biggest concern was heating and cooling, especially at their poorly insulated early childhood education establishments that particularly suffer in the cold months," tells Sussman, who has just completed her BSc in environmental engineering. "We visited three different kindergartens and heard the same story at each. The teachers have to be very creative and find activities that will warm the children sufficiently during the day."

"We started to look for easy to build systems, using simple materials, but also something that is environmentally friendly and cheap," adds Sussman's successor as team leader, Alon Avidor, a 3rd-year student in the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering. "Our system is based on an idea used successfully in Canada."

“Being group leader gave me purpose, and I could use what I studied in a meaningful way.”

The group set to work, built, and tested two prototypes at Technion. Using empty soda cans, mainly contributed by the Technion Students Association, painting them black and assembling them in a wooden frame, the students - all of whom are volunteers - erected the first prototype on the roof of the Sherman Environmental Engineering Center. Even on cloudy days in Haifa, which enjoys less sun than southern Israel, the system worked to increase the temperature of the air passing through it.

The second prototype already employed scale-up. It was not only larger but was also tested in an "experimental room" provided by the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The team added a data logger to keep track of the data round the clock. Matteo Laterza, a PhD student in aerospace engineering from Italy, was responsible for making all the necessary calculations.

EWB-Negev leader Angel Sussman on site with local children of the Abu-Ashibe Negev community

In December 2015, the EWB team erected six individual systems on site at the Abu Korinat kindergarten. After three construction visits, in which many of the local residents including the youngest of children helped, the system is fully operational since March 2016 and brings hot air into the building. The teaching staff can control each of the systems separately, from the inside.

"We are now in the monitoring phase and collecting data to compare to our theoretical calculations," says Sussman. "We want to be thorough and we'll create a manual once everyone is satisfied with the results."

There are currently some 15 members of the Negev group, founded by environmental engineering student Meiron Zollman, who come from a wide range of engineering disciplines as well as architecture. Meetings are conducted in English, since many volunteers are international.

"Most members - myself included - stay on with the group in some capacity even when no longer at Technion, because we feel that we are doing something good," says Sussman. "I loved it more than anything else I did at Technion. Being group leader gave me purpose, and I could use what I studied in a meaningful way. It gives an amazing perspective on life as well as on engineering."

“Giving time to the group and its goals moves beyond all logic and becomes a passion.”

"Giving time to the group and its goals moves beyond all logic and becomes a passion," adds Avidor. "The group is more than the sum of its individual members, and we expect it to continue long after we leave Technion."

The group's activities are supported by the nonprofit AJEEC-NISPED (Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation - Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development) as well as the Abu-Ashibe community. "You can't achieve anything unless the community is excited about it," the student leaders conclude.