Cycling for food: Rowan engineers work on pedal-powered grain crusher

Cycling for food: Rowan engineers work on pedal-powered grain crusher

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Heather Klein crisscrosses the campus of Rowan University, from the College of Engineering to the townhouses, the dining hall to the Rec Center, on a blue Huffy 26-inch beach cruiser bicycle.

Heather Klein crisscrosses the campus of Rowan University, from the College of Engineering to the townhouses, the dining hall to the Rec Center, on a blue Huffy 26-inch beach cruiser bicycle.

She's hoping a clone of the bike, picked up at the K-Mart in Glassboro for about a hundred bucks, may some day make the difference in the lives of people living half a world away.

Klein, 22, a senior civil engineering major from Toms River; Josh Bonzella, 22, a senior civil engineering major from Mullica Hill; and Kevin McGarvey, 22, a senior mechanical engineering major from Williamstown, are working with Dr. Beena Sukumaran, a civil and environmental engineering professor, to develop a pedal-powered grain crusher.

Their goal? To produce a fairly simple mechanical device that people in developing countries can use to process anything from corn to barley. If it's successful, the grain crusher can help produce food for residents of Third World countries and enable some people to generate an income as they travel from community to community crushing foodstuff for a price.

Right now, the device - which students have been working on for the better part of two years and which has gone through several iterations - is in the development stage. The students and professor, as part of a Rowan Engineering Clinic, have built an aluminum grain crusher that attaches to the bicycle, which is mounted on a stand. As a rider pedals, the back wheel moves a contact element that turns a pulley that moves plates in the crusher to process the food from large to fine pieces suitable for cooking. Corn, lentils, split peas and barley - the grain crusher has worked on them all.

Sukumaran said the project is the first in what she hopes will be Rowan's own "Entrepreneurs Without Borders," a technical-business take on Doctors Without BordersTM and Engineers Without BordersTM, in which Rowan has been active for several years. She hopes if the Rowan team members come up with a workable design they can transfer it to people in developing nations to produce themselves.

"That's why we didn't want a very complicated design," said Sukumaran, who added members of Rowan's EWB teams traveling to El Salvador and Senegal this year will contact local villages there to determine if they could benefit from such equipment. "We wanted to come up with some kind of mechanized device that does not depend on power."

"This bike could be any bike. We made the grain crusher so many different size tires and wheel configurations will work with it. Someone could ride this from village to village and then connect to the community grinder and basically perform this task," said Bonzella. He noted variations of the grain crusher do exist, but they generally feature store-bought, hand-operated grinders that are very labor intensive.

Klein is pleased to be lending her expertise and energy to such an important effort. "It will be nice to see it used by people who really need it," she said. "That will be the best thing - that people's lives can be made easier because of this project."

Sukumaran said the team is working with Rowan's Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship on a business plan and is considering patenting the device, which she estimates will cost under $200. And the team that started with a grain grinder because food is something everyone needs may next take on a request from a friend of the professor's from India who asked Rowan to develop a mechanical soil tiller.



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