The student news site of Convent of the Sacred Heart High School

Improving the egg-conomy

Alumna engineers self-sustainble incubator in African country.

December 14, 2017


Dena Montague | with permission

Alumna Bianka Quintanilla-Whye and teammate Paul Watkins hold newly-born chicks hatched in poultry farmer Boureima Kabre’s traditionally-powered incubator in Burkina Faso. Their team from Stanford University worked in Kabre’s shop assembling a solar powered incubator they designed.

A team of five mechanical engineers from Stanford University, including a Convent alumna, are designing and constructing a solar-powered, poultry egg incubator for Burkina Faso, one of West Africa’s most impoverished countries, in response to its demand for poultry farming.

“Poultry farming is the main source of income, but the access to the energy grid is terrible,” Bianka Quintanilla-Whye (’13) said. “When the energy cuts out and the incubator shuts down for a few days, all the eggs die, which is why there is such a great need for solar-power products.”

The incubators designed by Quintanilla-Whye and her team should accelerate and reduce the cost of poultry production, which makes up 80 percent of Burkina Faso’s economy.

“One of the major problems in Burkina Faso is that they do not have access to sustainable energy and the modern technology required to accelerate poultry production,” Dena Montague, a research associate at the Center for Black Studies Research at UC Santa Barbara said. “This makes the production overall less productive, and demonstrates a huge need and potential for solar-power.”

Montague first introduced the project to Reginald Mitchell, the team’s advisor and a professor of Advanced Thermal System and Energy Systems at Stanford. He then brought it to Quintanilla-Whye and her teammates during their senior year in December 2016.

Montague and Boureima Kabre, a Burkina Faso poultry farmer, co-founded the social enterprise Énergie Rich that created the solar-powered poultry egg incubator idea and organized the project.

“I have always been doing Energie Rich on the side, but I really started to see how local production of solar energy is really important in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Montague said. “If you don’t have access to energy, you can’t develop economically. We want access to energy to spread more rapidly — and for people to have local control over energy — while also creating jobs for locals.”

The team began the 10-week process with preliminary research on Burkina Faso, the challenges with sustainable energy and the poultry eggs. They then used coding, experimentation and small prototypes with shelves and insulation before making the final 230 egg capacity, solar- powered incubator, according to Quintanilla-Whye.

“This process took a lot of dedication and work,” teammate Paul Watkins said. “It was not just another senior project — this is going to be a lifetime commitment for me.”

Montague specifically wanted to work with a team of African-American students to address how few people of color work in engineering.

“I think it’s really powerful that we are working with people who live in Africa since all of [the team’s] ancestors were from there,” Quintanilla-Whye said. “To me, having the project centered within the African Diaspora — especially because the number of black mechanical engineers is very low — is really beautiful.”

Quintanilla-Whye and Watkins joined Montague and Kabre in Burkina Faso last summer to assemble the newly-designed incubator. Shipping the materials was the most expensive and difficult part of the trip, according to Montague.

Watkins, Montagu and Kabre plan to return next year with new team members to improve the incubator design, make it more cost effective, and educate locals on how to assemble the incubator.

“The people there are very excited by our work and ready to get the incubators functioning,” Montague said. “These students came from all the way across the world to not only help us build the incubator, but also to transfer knowledge so that we can build a sustainable green economy within the community.”

French Filmmaker Bonny Anoman accompanied the team to Burkina Faso and is creating a documentary, “On the Line,” about the project.

“Our work is not done,” Quintanilla-Whye said. “This is an ongoing project and people are depending on our design. The solar-powered incubator could completely change the game of the economy in Burkina Faso.”

Quintanilla-Whye graduated Stanford in June and returned for an additional quarter in order to complete her graduation requirements, having not declared her engineering major until her sophomore year.

She currently works part time at X, the Moonshot Factory, a division of Google that creates top secret inventions such as the Self-Driving Car. Quintanilla-Whye says she plans to work at X full time once the quarter is complete.

“In the future I hope to run workshops for students, or help people who have ideas but need the materials and money,” Quintanilla-Why said. “Mechanical engineering is a predominantly male field, but I do not allow that to hold me back.”

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