"Meet the Faces of EcoZoom": Sanath Bhat July 15 2014

Hi, I’m Sanath Bhat. I’m from Mumbai, India and am living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA to attend Carnegie Mellon University. I am a mechanical engineering intern at EcoZoom. I want to share why I joined EcoZoom and get back in touch at the end of my internship to reflect on my experiences. This is my first time in Kenya, and my first time in Africa. Besides my internship, I am looking forward to a safari in the famous Masai Mara, hiking Mt Longonot, and experiencing Nairobi nightlife.

As a masters student in engineering, I see an internship as a very important aspect of bridging the gap between school and the real world. It is especially beneficial to do an internship in the field I intend to focus on after graduation. I am pursuing my masters in mechanical engineering and specializing in user-centered design and product development. I was looking for an internship where I could work on the design and development of new products based on user needs and desires. It was really hard to find something which catered to this need, as companies are usually hesitant to give such a responsibility to interns. This was until I spoke to Ben West, the CEO of EcoZoom.  

I was introduced to Ben by a colleague and friend of mine at Carnegie Mellon University. Funny story, the first time Ben called me up I was fast asleep because I was up the previous night doing school work. I spoke to him in my sleep and do not recollect huge chunks of the conversation. After waking up I thought to myself, "Did I just talk to my potential employer like that?" So I spoke to Ben again a few days later and we had a great conversation. The flexibility he offered me in terms of the projects to work on was just awesome. I had options to work on optimizing the current product line, working on the new pellet stove initiative, or other projects right up my alley. There was work in design and engineering and exposure to marketing and branding. All this with the idea of travelling to a new country (Kenya) and experiencing a new culture sealed the deal! I decided to intern at EcoZoom for the summer (winter in Nairobi, as we are in the southern hemisphere). 

Sanath with three of the pellet stoves to be used in the pilot

I was admittedly a bit nervous but also very excited when I was on the flight to Nairobi. I didn’t know anyone here and this can be a bit unnerving for someone who hasn't traveled alone a lot. But this changed in the first few hours. Everyone was so friendly and cooperative and soon I slipped into my comfort zone. I chose to work on the new pellet stove initiative, the aim of which is to bring a cheaper, cleaner fuel to the market.

Currently, charcoal and firewood are the primary fuel sources for cooking in East African nations. Not only is this expensive and inefficient, but it is also a strain on the environment. We here at EcoZoom want to overhaul this system and introduce pellets to the market. Pellets are a simple fuel made from recycled waste. They are more affordable than charcoal or firewood and burn more efficiently. This means preventing the rampant deforestation that is occurring to create fuel for cooking – cooking that is dirty for the cook AND the environment. When making pellets, biomasses like saw dust, tree bark, etc are pelleted and burnt in a top lit up draft (TLUD) stove. Therefore, the point of this project is to design the best TLUD stove for Kenya in terms of functionality, aesthetics, ergonomics, and value for money, etc. We are piloting 4 “off the shelf” TLUD stoves to understand what the user likes/dislikes, what the user wants and what the user is willing to pay for it. 

I am already learning so much from everyone’s expertise here, and am lucky to be given such trust and responsibility as the “lowly intern.” I know this experience will be invaluable in my work post-graduation.          

That is all for now, I am Sanath Bhat, signing off. Will be back at the end of my internship to share my experiences and memories.