[IQP] Sustainable Design Solutions for Batipa Field Institute

Sponsor: Universidad Tecnológica Oteima
Student Team: Theresa Cloutier

Alyssa Konsko

Dominic Palermo

Jonathan Scammon

Abstract: The Batipa Field Institute has a vision to grow into a research station that thrives in the scientific community and in ecotourism. The goal of this project was to propose designs for sustainable energy and resource utilization for implementation at the institute. The final designs included installing a photovoltaic system and internet connectivity, utilizing excess teak wood, and developing a concept for a rainwater harvesting and photovoltaic support structure. This was accomplished through an iterative stakeholder oriented design process where communication allowed for the narrowing of research to achieve detailed final recommendations.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

This report provides recommendations of sustainable designs for the use of solar power and Wi-Fi internet connectivity in addition to the utilization of excess teak wood at the Batipa Field Institute. Oteima University, officially known as Universidad Technólogica Oteima, is a private university that is an affiliate to multiple companies located on the Batipa Peninsula. Batipa is the collection of affiliated enterprises that are responsible for the reforestation of teak trees, genetic modification of cattle, and preservation of biodiversity on the peninsula. The pursuit of Batipa’s profitable management practices and biodiversity conservation represents a cutting edge integration of land use.

One of Batipa’s enterprises, the Batipa Field Institute, is a tropical research station focused on preserving the peninsula’s natural environment while providing opportunities for scientists and students to research the unique ecosystems present. The institute includes a recreational area called Cabimos consisting of a structure with sleeping quarters and a kitchen as well as separate accommodations for bathrooms and showers. They plan to expand through the construction of modernized facilities that promote ecotourism, agricultural education, and environmental research. To facilitate expansion across the peninsula, outpost stations, depicted below in Figure ES 1 will be located in remote areas throughout Batipa. All of the proposed facilities are planned to be sustainable, off the grid, and have a low environmental impact.

Our recommendations were developed through a stakeholder oriented design process with our main objectives targeting communication with our sponsor, gathering information, and presenting preliminary designs for iteration and feedback. Over our seven weeks in Panama, ten days were spent with our sponsor, Oteima University, in the city of David, the capital city of the Chiriquí Province. Three of our days in David were dedicated to on site excursions with the objective of learning about Batipa’s current operations and resource management practices through observations and interviews. Throughout the remainder of our time in Panama, we had ongoing discussions with our sponsor to determine how to best deliver meaningful designs for implementation at Batipa.

After an iterative process of working to determine our sponsor’s key priorities, depicted above in Figure ES 2, we identified the primary needs for which we could propose design solutions.

  1. Photovoltaic System for Cabimos
  2. Wi-Fi Internet Connectivity at Cabimos
  3. Utilization of Excess Teak Wood.

Proposing a photovoltaic system to implement at Cabimos required a careful selection of a solar panel, batteries, charge controller, and inverter to ensure a cost effective solution. The solar panel size had to be considered first because the size has to satisfy the daily power demand of Cabimos. Three different scenarios of Cabimos were investigated to demonstrate how the system’s size and cost fluctuates due to certain appliances for lighting, internet, and a charging station. The lowest power scenario for Cabimos, shown in Table ES1, calculates that the energy needed to power the listed devices is 624 Watt hours per day.

In order for the photovoltaic system to power these appliances up to one and a half days without sunlight, one 24 Volt, 200 Watt panel in conjunction with a 24 Voltage, 94 Amp hour battery bank and a 9 Amp charge controller is required. Once the correct solar panel size was selected, the next step was to create a battery bank that stores the collected energy. A large battery bank is essential to not only store the daily demand of energy, but to also store enough energy to power the system without sunlight. As deep cycle batteries are the most expensive component of the photovoltaic system, it is essential to invest in a higher quality, longer lasting product such as lithium batteries. Over 28 years, it was determined that lithium batteries were a more cost effective option than the standard flooded lead acid batteries.

The next two required components of the photovoltaic system included a charge controller and an inverter. Each of these components have a more expensive, efficient option and a cheaper, less efficient option. For the charge controller and the inverter, it was determined that it was more profitable to invest in the more expensive Maximum Power Point Tracking Charge Controller and the Pure Sine Wave Inverter because the benefits of increased system efficiency surpass the initial cost.

The implementation of Wi-Fi at Cabimos would make progress towards achieving a connection throughout the Peninsula allowing visitors to complete tasks requiring internet. There are two main options providing off the grid solutions for wireless internet: mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and satellite internet dishes. Both options provide sufficient connectivity to fulfil the expected internet demands at Cabimos and can solely run off solar power. However, the benefits of each option differ mobile Wi-Fi hotspots are a small-scale, minimal power solution while satellite internet is a large-scale, extensive power solution. We concluded that the most viable option would be mobile Wi-Fi hotspots because they can accommodate the current internet demands as well as being a financially safe option without as many contracts and components as a satellite. A satellite internet dish would provide a more stable and robust connection, however its bandwidth and signal exceed the current demands at Batipa. Another aspect of satellite internet to consider is the limited signal during rainfall. These factors result in satellite internet connections not being a viable option against mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

One of the final goals of our team was to propose a means for the elimination and utilization of excess teak wood. This is a critical resource management for Batipa as trees are harvested every year. Thousands of tons of wood that are not commercially profitable in their current state must be removed before reforestation can begin. Despite the fact that our sponsor expressed interest in avoiding the purchase of a wood chipper, we determined after extensive research that the most viable option was to recommend one. Potential uses for the created wood chips are:

  1. Landscaping (Pathways, Mulch, etc.)
  2. Selling as Non-Timber Products (Dairy farms, Particleboard makers, etc.)
  3. Energy Production (Combustion and Anaerobic Digestion)
  4. Composting

An example of a wood chipper that our team thinks would be a good fit for Batipa’s needs is the Morbark BeeverTM M20R Forestry Chipper, seen in Figure ES 3 below. This is an smaller scale, efficient industrial drum chipper that is portable and optimal for in-woods chipping. In addition, it is reinforced in critical wear areas and creates wood chips that have the potential to be used for the biomass industry.

Our team developed a conceptual design for an elevated structure that maximizes the potential for rainwater harvesting and the use of a photovoltaic system at the outpost stations, depicted in Figure ES 4. The structure is surrounded by a teak facade which contributes to our sponsor’s goal of utilizing excess teak wood. An objective of this design is to provide a large enough catchment surface for rainwater collection to be a viable water source at the outpost stations. A solar panel positioned at the top of the structure would maximize energy collection in more remote, wooded areas. To develop this, we conducted research into rainwater harvesting systems, power demand, and created detailed models of our concept.

In order to determine the feasibility of a rainwater harvesting system at the outpost stations, we evaluated the stations’ water demands by using the Rainwater Calculation Formula (Novak, Van, & DeBusk, 2014). Assuming the water demand is 1200 gallons per year, we ascertained that a structure with a 36 ft2 catchment surface area would fulfill the need at each outpost station. This catchment surface would provide almost 3000 gal per year, assuming Batipa’s average annual rainfall. In order to prove the effectiveness of providing solar power at the outpost stations, we estimated daily energy demand at each station. The appliances needed to satisfy our sponsor’s needs had a demand of 1.240 kWh fulfilled by implementing two 24 Volt, 160 Watt panels.

In our time working with Oteima University and the Batipa Field Institute, our team provided thoughtful recommendations based on a stakeholder oriented design approach. Batipa’s stakeholders comprised of multiple individuals with varying backgrounds and fields of expertise. We were able to successfully propose designs to advance Batipa’s unique vision to not only be sustainable and off the grid, but also environmentally friendly and economically feasible. In all of our proposals, we adopted design principles for larger capacity with higher initial investments in the interests of sustainability. Our recommendations gave our sponsor a large base of information to potentially implement any of these designs.