Engineers saving lives in Africa by turning human waste into fuel

Amy Wright and Ryan Dillon are preparing for the trip of a lifetime providing clean and efficient sanitation services to poor communities in Kenya
Amy Wright and Ryan Dillon are preparing for the trip of a lifetime providing clean and efficient sanitation services to poor communities in Kenya
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Two NI-based civil engineers will head to Africa this month to help deliver an innovative sanitation project which turns human waste into fuel.

Amy Wright and Ryan Dillon – an engaged couple who live in Belfast – will link up in Kenya with Sanivation, a charity dedicated to improving the dignity, health and environment of communities in East Africa by delivering safe sanitation.

Amy Wright and Ryan Dillon are engaged to be married

Amy Wright and Ryan Dillon are engaged to be married

Amy, a senior civil engineer with Design ID, and Ryan, a site agent with Farrans Construction, will advise on the construction of new sanitation plants which transform faecal sludge into biomass fuel briquettes that can be sold to cover the operational costs of the plant.

Amy said: “The plants enable thousands of people living in slums access to improved sanitation through the removal and treatment of infectious waste. So far, 20,000 people have benefited from the plants, leading to a 47% reduction in diarrhoeal diseases in the area.

“Locals are also employed to operate the plants and sell the biomass fuel briquettes, ensuring the benefits are as widespread as possible, while the use of the briquettes reduces pollution and saves thousands of trees from destruction every year.”

The couple met as site engineers working on a bridge project in Amy’s home town of Sunderland.

Amy was given the Eloise Plunkett Quest Award and Ryan has received the Quest Travel Award – both from the ICE, who have provided financial support for the trip.

Explaining how they get involved with Sanivation, Amy said: “I contacted the organisation as I believed in what they were doing and offered my services as an engineer who was interested in development engineering. At the time they were looking to expand their operations and didn’t have any construction experience on their team so it was by chance very good timing that we were able to get involved in a useful way.

“The technology is based on old principles but the key is making the model work on a larger scale and getting local buy-in. The briquettes provide a lower-carbon and longer-lasting alternative to charcoal, producing just a third of the carbon emissions of conventional briquettes. Selling this fuel allows the profits to be reinvested in the plant and allows the model to be sustainable.”

During their five-week trip, Amy and Ryan will live in local housing and will visit Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, to make links with local organisations with the aim of fostering long-term working relationships and returning in the future.

The couple are holding a fundraising race night in Pug Ugly’s bar, in Bedford Street, Belfast, on Saturday at 8pm in a bid to raise money for Sanivation.