Following up on last week’s research, our team continued looking into the accessibility of testing materials for water, soil, and biochar. With regards to water quality home testing kits, there are some testing kits available via Amazon that can test for toxic metals, volatile organic compounds, and coliform. However, these are expensive (~$350), and it did not seem productive to be using our budget to be testing local water quality whose results could possibly be obtained by our local utility provider or via websites. In addition, the water testing kits were missing testing for physical appearance/aesthetics, something that we had learned is valuable to look into when we researched Ghana’s current water quality. This is because people do not want to drink discolored water (even though its water quality may be up to standards). In terms of soil testing, there is a soil lab in Ghana that can perform toxicity tests of the soil at farms where we are planning to work at. However, it was brought up that there is no point in testing the soil right after applying biochar because we would need to wait for the full growth of cacao plants to see any noticeable differences in soil composition before and after biochar application. In terms of biochar testing, most of the toxicology tests can be done in a certified testing lab while utility tests can be done by ourselves.
Originally, we planned to purchase cost-friendly and reliable testing kits that the team could eventually bring to Ghana to measure our local water and soil quality in order to test the effectiveness of these kits, but one particular question came up among all of us: what are we expecting to find using these test kits? We would not have any benchmarks to compare to, especially because we have no access to site-specific water or soil samples from the farms we are hoping to deploy our biochar apparatus at. We also have not been able to produce biochar to test from the cacao husks that TCHO gave us due to COVID-19. This is further complicated by our lack of access to the Environmental Engineering labs in Y2E2; only critical researchers are allowed access to these labs during the pandemic, so we would not be able to compare our results with laboratory equipment.
Because of all the uncertainty regarding testing and sample accessibility, we decided that it would be more productive to instead focus our remaining weeks of the quarter on scaling up our design since Latifah recently connected with a chocolate farmer in Malaysia who is enthusiastic about trying biochar. Last quarter, we had conducted literature review of existing designs and prototyped a very small design using cans. However, in order for biochar application to be useful, a much more substantial amount needs to be produced, especially since there are a LOT of cacao husks during harvesting season. In the next five weeks of the quarter, we plan to create a more comprehensive design with specific material requirements, so that we can order to them to Malaysia for Latifah to begin prototyping.