Solar tech in the medical field – Salam cardiac surgery center sudan etc.

While at TEDGlobal I met Manuel Toscano, a gentleman who works for Emergency USA. We talked shortly about solar power being a great technology for use in remote areas. He filled me in on a hospital that was designed using the following guiding principles.
-The idea of a “hollow” space and a pavilion-based system;
-The choice of the best possible technology given the context;
-The search for an ethical language for this type of architecture.

The choice of solar power for a hospital in an oil rich country might seem a bit ironic, but there is more to this. The specific details of how the energy produced by the panels is used is particularly interesting.

Solar panel: free healthcare, free energy
The average temperature in the Sudan is 29°C, and in the hottest months it can reach 45°C. In order to cool down the hospital, a number of measures were taken during construction. In addition to this, air conditioners were installed after the building was constructed. In the first case, a series of insulating techniques were used. The external walls for example are 58 cm thick and contain an insulating cavity that prevents the building from heating up. The use of traditional cooling systems would have implied high levels of electrical energy or fossil fuel consumption (the needs in terms of volumes of air to be cooled down are hefty: 28,000 m3). In a country rich in oil resources, EMERGENCY has sought out alternative sources of clean energy: the sun. Nine containers left Italy for Khartoum with 300 solar panels, bringing to the country an almost unknown technology, and one that is very seldom used in Europe. Today a plant that contains 288 solar collecting items (for an equivalent of 900 m2, or the area of 10 houses) produces 3,600 KW- as much as burning 355 kg of gas â?? without producing one gram of CO2. Each collecting item is made up of a number of copper tubes that contain water; these are themselves placed in insulated glass tubes that allow the water inside the copper tubes to heat up. The water transfers the accumulated heat to an insulated 50 m3 tank that keeps the water between 80-90°C. The heat is then cooled down to 7°C in two “chilling” machines. Solar power thus allows the center to produce cold air without discharging any particles into the atmosphere, and limits the use of electric power to water circulation pumps. Two regular boilers have also been installed in case the solar power is not sufficient to run the two “chilling” machines. The cold water is used to lower the levels of heat in the rooms that need to be chilled for medical or other purposes. The machines used for this last part of the cooling circuit are called UATs (Units of Air Treatment). There are 8, each one designed for a specific area of the hospital (CPR, surgery, administration, etc). The UATs draw air from outside and “force” it into a 7°C tube that cools it down. A second system of tubes subsequently transports the cool air to various hospital rooms according to need.

In short, the surgery center is kept cool using a combination of the water from the Nile and the Solar panels. For more detail on the design guidelines of the salam center please click here [pdf]. (Thank you Manuel).

It is becoming increasingly clear that solar tech is flexible enough to allow for innovation in any field. Another example of solar being especially useful in the medical field is the ‘Hospital in a box’ invention by Dr. Seyi Oyesola, a TED Global Speaker and innovator.
Hospital in a box by Dr. Oyesola.
Jason Pontin of TR summarized his invention as

It was a simple, portable (well, 150-pound), resilient set of medical devices that makes surgery possible even in the worst parts of the world. The hospital in a box has anesthetic equipment, a defibrillator, a burn unit, plaster-making tools, surgical tools, and an operating table.

In my post on tales of invention, i noted that the ‘Hospital in a box’ can be charged using a truck battery or a solar panel.

Note: TED fellows Dr. Chikwe Iheakweazu and Dr. Ike Anya from Nigeria started the blog ‘Nigeria Health Watch’ to discuss and bring to the fore health care issues in Nigeria and Africa in general. Do visit them and subscribe to their feed if you are in the medical field and want to be in the loop.

Back to architecture: This ted talk from Cameron Sinclair is very inspiring.

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