Research Center on Renewable Energies will be first in Central America

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: November 29th, 2011

By Olman Lopez
Translation by Vanessa I. Garnica

When Reginald Cean, a fourth year student from Haiti, registered for the elective course “Clean energies in rural areas” he knew he would be able to apply what he learned when he returns to his native country after graduating this December.

“Haiti depends on fossil fuels for electricity. And a great number of people do not have access (to this energy) because it is too costly.”

Cean recognizes energy is important for the development and functioning of a society, from refrigerating foods for a better quality of life to the possibility of educating people through mass media.

Given the situation in his country, Cean was not aware of alternative energy sources until he came to EARTH.  But over the course of his studies, he began to see potential business opportunities in the  Haitian market, particularly in  the large scale production of biodiesel.

Precisely, biodiesel production has been one area that has most captured Cean’s attention during the length of the course.

“Before taking the class, I thought biodiesel could only be produced from certain types of plants, but now I understand there are numerous (types),” he said.

When it comes to Haiti, Cean sees an opportunity in a plant called Jatropha, which is very common there and has great potential for the production of biodiesel.

Partnership for innovation in alternative energies

Cean and 23 other fourth year EARTH students took this course within the framework of a project financed by the Environmental Ministry of Germany (BMU) and implemented by EARTH University and the Academy for Renewable Energy in Berlin (RENAC).

The initiative called REN@EARTH aims to stimulate innovative solutions to meet the energy challenges of the future through training on renewable energies and the development of sustainable energies.

“REN@EARTH is strategic in its implementation of transferring knowledge and the necessary technologies that assure the energy supply, economic growth, and reduction of the carbon footprint, in an effort to reduce the impact of climate change,” explained EARTH professor Dr. Bert Kohlmann, who is the project coordinator and was instrumental in the collaboration between the German government and EARTH University.

This project includes several components, beginning with the elective course in September of this year. The 12-week class will be imparted over three years and is taught by Professor Volkhard Scholz, from the Agro Technical Institute Leibniz in Potsdam, Germany. Professor Scholz explained that the course covers general content about climate change, current and future technologies, the production of biofuels, wind energy, hydraulic, solar and hybrid systems, among other topics.

“Four out of the six hours of class is practical and hands-on with the goal that, with this knowledge, the students are able in the future to consider renewable energies for domestic use and on a farm and community scale,” profesor Scholz explained.  The practical training allowed students to better understand each type of energy, enabling them to calculate  solar radiation or the speed of wind, identify how and where to place a photocell in a domestic system and determine the potential of energy production.

During the next three years, professor Scholz will stay one trimester at EARTH to teach the fourth year course and assist with other aspects within the project, including an annual workshop for business and academic sectors in Central America.  This professional training allows him to share the German expertise regarding renewable energy with different sectors capable of innovating and sharing the development of technologies and knowledge locally.

Another important component within the project  is the development of Central American professionals in Germany so that they can influence their respective industries and countries.

The first in a series of three workshops took place at the Renewables Academy in Berlin, which focused on the design of photovoltaic systems. The remaining two will take place in 2012 and will highlight wind energy and hybrid systems.

Parallel to these trainings and as a fundamental part of the project, a Renewable Energies Research and Development Center was established on the EARTH campus.  The first of its kind in Central America, the Center includes high end technology focused on research and innovation in clean energy.

The inauguration of the center will take place November 30 on the EARTH University campus in Guácimo.

“This is a very well equipped lab with technology that practically covers all of the renewable energies we know to-date. This project will have a very big impact in the generation of applicable knowledge within the rural reality of Latin America,” explained Dr. Kohlmann. “It is important that our graduating students continue to innovate in this area, which is having an increasing importance and fits with our vision of sustainability that we share with the Environmental Ministry of Germany.”