Our chapter is currently working on a project to implement a sustainable, efficient cooking system to the community of Nyadire, Zimbabwe.

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PET Thatch

This project aims to develop an automated process to construct thatch roofs and other products from recycled plastic bottles.

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This project aims to develop a system by which drones can assist farmers in collecting agricultural data and an accompanying data analysis platform.

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Urban Agriculture

The Agriculture Project is focused on decreasing food deserts within the urban Pittsburgh area. We work in both the Phipps Conservatory and the Environmental Engineering Laboratory to research indoor agriculture. We utilize aeroponic and hydroponic growing techniques. The project is broken into three main focuses: plants, power, construction. This semester the team will research energy efficiency in the lab while working on the overall system at Phipps Conservatory. All are invited to participate.

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This team works to provide community improvements to Nyadire, a Methodist Mission complex located three hours northeast of Harare, the capital city. Nyadire is home to about 3,000 people and a hospital, orphanage, and a teacher's college. Over the past two years, EWB Zimbabwe designed a solar street light system to solve one of Nyadire's largest concerns: nighttime lighting. After researching alternatives such as solar, hydropower, biogas, and grid-charged batteries, the team decided to pursue decentralized solar. EWB was able to fundraise enough money to implement a 24 solar street light system to illuminate vital community routes. A travel team went to Zimbabwe in August 2017 to prepare the community for the September installation.

During the August 2017 trip, the team also conducted an Assessment Trip to determine the scope of the next project with Nyadire. From issues regarding farming irrigation to water borehole quality to creating an income source for the orphanage, our team finally determined that the lack of a sustainable fuel source for cooking was the most imminent concern that could be tackled by our team. For this year, the team will be working on alternatives analysis and designing the implementation of the system.

PET Thatch

The project’s mission is to develop an automated process to construct thatch roofs and other products from recycled plastic bottles. The process will then be transplanted into communities in developing nations, where local entrepreneurs will take over the venture. PET Thatch is an ambitious joint effort between our chapter and the Reuse Everything Institute, a local non-profit.

After a two-week trip to Ecuador in 2014 where the team constructed a new thatch roof for a national park and collected data on local recycling habits, the team spent 2014-2015 researching targeted aspects of the automation process: cutting, fusing, decontouring, and roof design. Current active research groups working to integrate the processes and exploring optimal applications of the technology.

Current Research Groups

Variable to Constant Width Ribbon

This project aims to take a continuous ribbon of plastic that is of a roughly consistent, but variable width and design a system that will produce a ribbon of uniform width for a variety of uses.

Woven Mat

This project aims to take a continuous ribbon of plastic that is of uniform width and design a system to weave this ribbon into a woven mat for a sheet-like product.


This projects aims to take a continuous ribbon of plastic that is of uniform width and design a system to create fencing for a variety of applications such as landscaping and construction.

Washing and Drying Inorganic Waste

This project aims to take the waste produced by all of the repurposing processes and design a system that washes and dries it, prepping it for use as packing material for eco-bricks.

Past Research Groups


The cutting section of the PET Thatch project aims to create a method to cut off the tops and bottoms of the bottles and then cutting the bottles into strips. The focus is to make this process automated and efficient, while keeping it safe. In the past semester, they have created a prototyping model for a cutting chute, sketched out a plan for strip cutting rollers, and are in the process of testing cutting blades.


As part of the PET Thatch project, the fusing section is responsible for connecting the individual plastic strips from the cutting section into longer plastic thatch for the roof design section. The main concerns of the section are to make the fusing process easy to learn, affordable, and effective. Currently, the team is researching alternative methods of fusing and have determined three effective mechanical alternatives to ultrasonic fusing.


Decontouring is the process by which ridges and deformations are removed from surfaces. The decontouring team of the PET Thatch project is currently developing a device to accomplish this task. The team has finalized a design utilizing a heated roller system and plan on constructing this system in the upcoming weeks.

Roof Design

This groups looks at the holistic system by creating ideas in manufacturing and application while identifying what end product will perform best through prototypes and experimentation. In the past few months, the team has created a test frame to build model roofs and prototyped new methods of assembling plastic roof tiles.