Skip to main content

Research in Ghana yields new partners, challenges

August 25, 2010

ASU’s GlobalResolve traveled again to Ghana over the summer to build on its successful partnerships and product prototypes.

GlobalResolve, administered within the College of Technology and Innovation, is a social entrepreneurship program designed to enhance the educational experience of ASU students through semester-long projects that directly improve the lives of people in underdeveloped nations.

This latest visit, which brought together the largest cohort to date (9 students and 5 faculty), yielded a new village partner, an added source of raw materials for creating gel fuel and a stove prototype that is culturally sensitive to the needs and situations of people in Africa.

“We’ve been to Africa five times now and each time we make a little progress," said Mark Henderson, engineering professor and GlobalResolve co-founder. "Our overall goal is to setup a village-venture through products. This time we went back to continue the process of setting up a gel fuel business.”

The initiative continues to focus on gel fuel production technology and a twig light device, and is adding a stove to the mix. The twig light, developed by mechanical engineering technology graduate student Michael Pugliese, uses twigs, water, a thermoelectric generator and an LED array to provide light. The gel fuel production technology involves a process to turn corn into gel fuel, but that might change. 

“We have setup the production of ethanol from corn in the village of Domeabra, but during this last visit we came in contact with the village of Akawli, which can produce the base of the gel fuel from sugarcane,” Henderson said. “We hope that in one year our products will propagate and increase the economic development of the villages.”

Last year a gel fuel burning stove was first brought to Ghana, but was limited in its use, according to feedback provided by villagers. This year, to ensure the needs of the village were being addressed, a new design team was asked to develop a stove that will be user-friendly, efficient, and have wider usage.

The team, made up of John Takamura, assistant professor of industrial design, and undergraduate researcher Aaron Smith, from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, served as the industrial designers of the GlobalResolve team, conducting user-centered research and providing design ideas for the stove.

“This opportunity was to see how villagers cook and use their existing stoves, and see how it could be applied to the gel fuel stove," Takamura said. "Moreover, how the gel fuel stove could be modified, changed or improved to fit the needs of the village.”

For Smith, the experience was an opportunity to expand his skills as a designer, dispel assumptions and understand firsthand the challenges of life in extreme poverty.

“People don't want to be handed a ‘thing’ to solve their problems," Smith said. "They want to be empowered to solve their problems with a long-term sustainable solution, given the chance they will work hard and become committed to that which empowers them.”

Smith has spent the summer contributing to the process of developing several prototypes of the stove and plans to return to Africa next year to test his solutions.

To help get some of these ventures off the ground, GlobalResolve plans to offer fellowships for junior- and senior-level students to spend extended time in the villages. For more information about the fellowships, send an e-mail to

To learn more, support or join GlobalResolve visit