WPI Students Look at Energy Use in Morocco

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

DESERT SANDS - Three WPI students, from left, Nicolas Kociuk of Colorado Springs, Colo., Debbie Li of Bellerose, N.Y., and Jason Boudreau of Tiverton, R.I., completed a project on energy use in Morocco.
IFRANE, Morocco - Three Worcester Polytechnic Institute students rode camels through the desert, among other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, while studying the African environment this fall. Nicolas Kociuk, a junior electrical engineering major from Colorado Springs, Colo., Debbie Li, a junior computer science major from Bellerose, N.Y., and Jason Boudreau, a junior electrical engineering major from Tiverton, R.I., completed their required WPI Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) during a two-month stint in Morocco from October to December. The project culminated in a presentation of their report, "An Energy Assessment of Ifrane City and the Impact on the Local Environment," at Morocco's Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI) School of Science and Engineering.

A cooperative venture between WPI and AUI, the project looked at various energy resources and their impact on the local environment. The project came about as a result of talks between WPI Professor Tahar El-Korchi and officials at AUI.

"This is the first of its kind in Morocco," said El-Korchi, who teaches civil and environmental engineering and served as the project advisor. "The IQP topic was proposed by Dr. Bachir Raissouni, dean of engineering at AUI, who has strong ties with the city of Ifrane. The students were very excited to do a hands-on project that would help the local community in assessing its heating energy needs, the sustainability of heating with wood and the potential for deforestation problems in the future."

As a result of their work, the WPI students made recommendations to improve the sustainability of the local forests and to increase public awareness about safer, more cost-effective and more energy-efficient alternatives.

"Wood is cheap compared to other fuels," Boudreau noted, "so there is a need to subsidize other fuels to make it at least comparable in cost to wood." In fact, one of the team's recommendations is for government subsidy of butane gas stoves for heating to cut down on wood use.

Kociuk, Li and Boudreau researched energy consumption of residents, businesses and public services of Ifrane, as well as studying the condition and management of the local forests. A survey was conducted among 104 residents to determine the types and quantities of energy sources they used for heating and cooking and to learn more about the conditions and demographics of local households.

Interviews provided information about energy consumption, particularly about the amount of wood consumed. And by talking to people at pharmacies and the local hospital, the students uncovered health risks related to current methods of energy use.

To develop an understanding of the management and conditions of the local forests, the WPI students talked with members of the forestry department as well as fuel wood distributors. Their research showed that 95.2 percent of the surveyed population uses wood as a major source of energy. Businesses are also major consumers of wood.

While all methods of energy consumption imply some health risk, the students found that wood use contributed to various health problems in Ifrane. The data collected from the hospital showed that carbon monoxide poisoning and various burns, resulting from misuse of heating technologies, were the main ailments.

Taking into account cost, affordability and availability of resources, as well as the environmental impact, the students made the following recommendations, in addition to a government subsidy for butane gas for heating:

  • Reduce the amount of wood consumed through increasing the efficiency of stoves.
  • Increase insulation in heated rooms.
  • Introduce the possibility of using alternative fuels taken from existing natural resources, such as acorns from oak trees.

The WPI students expressed the hope that their work will serve as the foundation for many future projects concerning energy-efficiency studies and affordable alternatives in Ifrane. In addition to the satisfaction of a job well done, the WPI students learned lessons about life in Morocco.

"People (in Morocco) are very generous," said Li. "The land is extremely beautiful, life is very peaceful and there is always more to see and do."

They also hope they've laid the foundation for further work.

"I think future IQPs - or perhaps other kinds of projects - will be able to build upon the data we collected and the conclusions we made, and really focus on some of the problems we found," Kociuk said. "Our project could well be the catalyst to finding some solutions to the energy issues in Ifrane."

Boudreau agreed, saying, "We realize that this is a big project. We've done the groundwork and we've hopefully come up with some recommendations that can be built on."

Professor El-Korchi agreed, saying, "I think overall the project went very well, the students had an excellent experience with the culture, the food and the language. And, of course, they became quite familiar with the common saying 'In Shaa Allah' which means 'God willing.' Based on this positive experience, we hope to send more students for future IQPs."

WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.