The Laidlaw Research and Leadership Programme


Laidlaw scholar’s energy life-cycle costing tool helps agro-industry tap into clean energy

19 February 2019

BASC student Imran Mannan’s summer research project is being used by farms and crop-processing plants in Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi as part of AGRICEN

Imran sitting on a balcony smiling

Imran Mannan is one of UCL’s first cohort of students on the Laidlaw Leadership and Research Programme. 25 first year students are recruited to the Programme each year and receive generous bursaries that enable them to carry out two summer research periods of six weeks.

For his second summer project, Imran was tasked with designing a “life cycle costing tool” to compare the different methods of energy generation (e.g. wind, solar, biofuel) in light of the particular circumstances and needs of different users.  
He was supervised by Dr Yacob Mulugetta from the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP).

The tool was designed to be used by medium size agro-industries such as farms, or crop-processing plants in Africa as part of the AGRICEN (Agro-industries and Clean Energy in Africa) initiative.

Imran undertook research into some of the agricultural industries in the four participating African countries, and investigated the current state of different alternative energy industries including solar, wind, hydroelectric and biofuel – all operating on a micro scale below 100kW.  He then set about producing the costing tool.

The tool itself was produced using Excel. In order write it, Imran needed to learn a number of new Excel programming techniques.

This is the first time that Imran has worked for “clients” - i.e. his supervisor and the end users, and he learned how to ensure that their requirements were met whilst also creating a tool with a high level of usability, tailored to their needs.

Softer skills such as networking, collaboration, and organisational skills have all been sharpened by this project.

For Imran, the whole experience was enjoyable and fulfilling. He stated: “Contributing something meaningful to such a big project feels great.”

Research that has tangible benefits outside a summer project

Imran’s supervisor was so impressed by the final tool, that it has been distributed to the research teams in Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi where it is being used to compare the costs of different energy options.

In addition, Imran has gained the opportunity to work as an intern in STEaPP next summer.

His supervisor stated:

“It was a huge pleasure for me to interact with such a practical, mature and enthusiastic student who is eager to make a real difference in the world. I am thankful to the Laidlaw programme for making the resources available and the opportunity to develop such meaningful co-operations with our students, based on our mutual interests and passions.”