Manfred Lehnert, who hails from Germany, joined Auroville in 1993 and is working on a variety of research and development projects. Manfred has a Physical Engineering Diploma from Germany topped with decades of practical experience in the design of engine components and other engineering projects, cryogenics (working with liquid helium), vacuum technology, silencers for cars and motorbikes, reactors/catalysers for cars, water heating systems, welding and soldering techniques and anti-corrosion systems.
In Auroville, Manfred is presently working on the following four projects:
(1) Solar sea water desalination
Today Auroville's potable water sources are becoming increasingly polluted by industrial waste and untreated sewage, and in the coastal zones by intrusion of sea water. Manfred's research aims at obtaining drinking water from polluted or saline water by solar distillation. The use of two inexhaustible sources of water and energy - the sea and the sun - is well known, and has been applied since 150 years in, for instance, Chile. The design is simple: a glass house covering a basin with sea water. The sun heats up the water, which then evaporates and condenses against the inside of the cooler glass roof, finally trickling into a distiller catchment
As of today, three prototypes have been installed in the Petite Ferme settlement, occupying altogether 6 sqm. The first results are encouraging. Every square metre can give 3-5 litres distilled water daily, which can be used for batteries and his soap production (see below). The beach area would be ideal for installing a bigger solar sea water desalination plant, involving an area of 100sqm, 200sqm or even 500sqm. For example, 100 sqm could yield 150,000 litres distilled water annually. But before building such a big plant further research is necessary.
(2) Biodegradable soaps & cleaners
Manfred's biodegradable liquid and solid soaps and
cleaners are made from plant oils such as palm, coconut or pongam oil
and natural essences, and can replace the harmful chemical washing powders
generally available on the market. These natural soaps have the same
cleaning result, and keep our environment healthy. They contain no synthetic
detergents, bleaching powder, enzymes or other chemicals. The living
organisms existing in our waste water treatment plants will not be disturbed
by their use.
(3) Plant oil as a substitute for harmful diesel oil
Manfred has been experimenting with cultivation of the Kurinjee tree, whose pods give kuringee oil, which on filtration and viscosity reduction can directly substitute for diesel in diesel engines. Some of these experiments have been conducted in Dual Fuel engines run on biogas/producer gas by Dr.U.Srinivasa of SUTRA project at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, with whom Manfred is in regular contact. Experiments in such substitutes and blending have been going on throughout the world since the 1940s, but are only now finally drawing serious attention.
His project aims at promoting the production and application of a renewable bio-degradable plant oil from the indigenous 'Pongamia pinnata' tree to replace the harmful, non-renewable fossil diesel oil at a reasonable cost. Use of this alternative could reduce CO2-emission (responsible for global warming) and air pollution (it contains no sulfur and creates no particles such as soot). This plant oil is bio-degradable, and therefore presents no danger to soil or water through leakages during transport, storage, etc. It can also become a substitute for chemical fertilisers when using the oil-cake as an organic fertiliser. The sale of these oil cakes can help to reduce the oil price.
It is a renewable source of energy which can be used without sophisticated technical preparation, and can be locally grown on wasteland, along roads and as fencing. It needs little financial input, makes use of the local oil processing capacities, and finally can generate employment for the rural population. Moreover, it could provide an eventual solution for the expected exhaustion of mineral oil at some point in the future.
The project would include the planting and cultivating of the oil bearing trees in Auroville, as well as the oil processing and distribution of the bio-fuel within the township and its environs. Additionally, the monitoring of the concerned engines and possibly the measuring of the exhaust gases would be undertaken.
4) Low cost light roofing components
The aim is to develop lightweight, low cost 'fibre reinforced concrete' (FRC) roofing tiles as an alternative to asbestos products. Manfred, who works on this with his partner Dorothee, gives the following advantages for this material:
The first samples, 45 x 45 cm roofing tiles, are encouraging.
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