Students Win National Competition for Turning Waste into Paper

John Hopkins engineering students won $15,000 in a competition for adapting a Korean paper-making technique into a method for impoverished villagers to make paper for underequipped schools.

The engineering students designed a machine to convert farm waste into paper, inexpensively and without electricity. The design was presented during a ceremony honoring top submissions in the 2012 Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development competition in Houston, TX. The paper-making proposal took second place in a contest with 422 student entrants from 173 universities.

Students Sangkyun Cho, Jay Hyug Choi and Victor Hyun Oh developed the plan last spring in a Whiting School of Engineering course called Introduction to Engineering for Sustainable Development, taught by Erica Schoenberger, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering.

Student entrants in the Odebrecht contest were required to develop and submit a paper on possible engineering contributions to sustainable development. The Johns Hopkins students focused on the lack of basic school supplies, including paper, in developing nations such as Ethiopia, where more than 70 percent of the population is illiterate.

To remedy this, the three students drew on their Korean heritage to modernize a traditional Korean paper-making process for use in places such as Ethiopia. The students prepared a detailed design for a low-cost paper-making device that requires no electricity. The machine grinds up agricultural waste such as grain husks and mixes the material with water boiled over a fire. The resulting pulp is dried on racks to form paper.

So far, the paper-making device exists only on paper. But the students now plan to build a prototype. If the machine works as conceived, team member Oh said, the students will look into working with a nonprofit group or private investors to try to move the low-tech invention into regions where school supplies are scarce.

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