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High school student generates electricity using biodegradable resources

Macdonald Chirara: Society for Science & the Public Community Innovation Award winner.

Macdonald Chirara: Society for Science & the Public Community Innovation Award winner. Photo courtesy of Macdonald Chirara.

Student Innovations

In Macdonald Chirara’s community in Zimbabwe, people often face electricity shortages and they use firewood as a source of energy. This practice can add to increased rates of deforestation and contribute to global climate change. Chirara wants to offer an alternative way to produce electricity for his community.

Macdonald's biogas digester setup, which can convert biogas to cooking oil and electricity.To solve this problem, he created a biogas digester setup, which converts organic waste into electricity. The technology uses readily available resources such as animal waste and a local invasive plant to produce biogas.

“Biogas has the potential to provide clean renewable energy and to facilitate sustainable development of [an] energy supply for Zimbabwe and Africa at large,” Chirara says.

In rural areas, people often use firewood as a source of energy. This is contributing to deforestation and climate change.His device measured a maximum of 1.5 volts. “This electricity can be used especially in rural areas, where most households are not yet connected to the national grid, or in urban areas as a backup power source,” he says.

His work was selected by his local science fair for recognition with a Society for Science & the Public Community Innovation Award. This award honors students participating in science fairs around the world who are making a difference in their communities. In 2018, the Society rewarded 20 young scientists with $500 prizes — and Chirara was one of them.

Students often have to read by candlelight to complete their homework due to a shortage of electricity in Zimbabwe.Previous recipients include Madeleine Yang, from Bloomfield, Mich., who produced a more effective influenza vaccine; Shubh Dholakiya, from Rajkot, India, who built an accessible bike for disabled people; and Claire Wayner, from Baltimore, who studied ways to decrease bacteria in stormwater filtration systems.