Blog of Lorin Symington

Tanzania: a Montessori school chose Lytefire

Posted Saturday 19 June 2021 by Lorin Symington.

We’re happy to announce that we will be implementing an innovative new project in the Mwanza region of Tanzania in association with Montessori School Mwanza. Montessori School Mwanza is under the direction of Sister Denise Mattle, who has been involved in Montessori education for more than 40 years.

Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. It was developed by Maria Montessor in Italy about a century agoi and is practiced worldwide.

Given the fact that the Montessori School Mwanza is an education campus for more than 1000 students, some of whom stay overnight, there is a considerable demand for bread and baked goods as well as the occasional birthday cake already coming from within the institution! Beyond that, the goal is to sell the solar-baked goods through a newly opened shop in the neighborhood.

Together, GoSol and Montessori School Mwanza will install Lytefire 5 ovens, conduct a training of trainers to ensure that staff at the school are familiar with Lytefire tech as well as the basics of baking and entrepreneurship. Afterwards, together we’ll train the first batch of secondary school students who will have the opportunity to provide baked goods for their peers and also create a student run business that will develop recipes and sell baked goods to the surrounding population.

The hands-on learning approach of Montessori Schools is a great fit for GoSol’s educational program where we train participants in the installation, use and maintenance of Lytefire technology as well as practical aspects of entrepreneurship and bakery skills. Giving secondary school students the opportunity to also interact with a renewable energy source and learn about climate change can also help to prepare them for the future.

This is a great opportunity to give youth who are interested in learning about how to run a business a great hands-on experience as part of their schooling, supervised by caring and qualified adults. Additionally, for any students more interested in the culinary arts there should be ample opportunity to practice and experiment while baking for their friends and fellow students.

This initiative should help to save Montessori School Mwanza money, reduce their environmental impact and give a large number of young people exposure to renewable energy solutions, experience running a business and lots of practice baking delicious treats like cakes, cookies, muffins and more!

More info about Montessori Mwanza here.

All pictures (c) Montessori Mwanza.


The Ladies of Goghin, solar bakers in Burkina Faso

Posted Monday 31 May 2021 by Lorin Symington.

We’re very happy to announce the ladies of Goghin have gone solar!

Thanks to your generous contributions on the crowdfunding, the hard work of Vincent Nikiema and his association SOS Énergie Burkina and the contribution of L’Association pour un Monde Solidaire (ASW) we were able to deliver a great training package to members of this rural women’s group.

Over the course of about 3 weeks, our team in Burkina Faso delivered and installed a Lytefire6 along with all the equipment needed for a small bakery, and we conducted two training modules, one focusing on small scale entrepreneurship skills, and the other on practical baking skills.

For the entrepreneurship training, we had said that we could handle a class size of about 15. Nearly 30 women showed up! Only a handful of them could read and write, but all of them wanted to learn more about how to handle money and improve their business skills. Of course, we could not turn them away. Fortunately, our entrepreneurship educator, Somé Alexis has extensive experience training women of all education levels, and he brought an additional helper who is fluent in Mooré, the language of the Mossi people.

While the ladies were learning how to do book keeping, budgeting and other entrepreneurship skills, we worked with some men from the village to ensure they had the know-how to install and calibrate the mirrors on the Lytefire. A number of young men came and went, but in our experience young men move around too much so even if they are trained up, they might not be around when they are needed. We worked with Mr. Sédou and André Nikiema (Vincent’s brother) to install and calibrate the mirrors of the Lytefire. This was also a great chance to see our country manager Martin Poubidjie in action, teaching others how to calibrate.

For the practical bakery portion of the training package, Mr. Jean Bosco made his appearance again and he and his son Allain spent a week with the ladies teaching them the fundamentals of baking, from good ingredient storage habits, to hygiene, proper measuring technique, how to vary the amount of yeast depending on temperature (when it’s 42degC in the afternoon, you don’t need as much yeast as in the morning!) and, very importantly, good kneading technique.

Their village is about 15 minutes off the road from Ouagadougou to Bobo Diolasso about 45 minutes from the city. There is an industrial bakery in the nearby town of Tanghin Dassouri that makes only (in my opinion) cardboard tasting baguettes, but there are so many other delicious varieties of bread and treats to make and the ladies have been very excited to learn some tastier recipes.

Based on our experiences with Remar, we have increased the surface area of the Lytefire from 5 square meters to 6 because the quality of sunlight in Burkina Faso is relatively low due to all the atmospheric dust blown off the Sahara. While you might not see a rain cloud for 9 months of the year, the skies always have a slight-to-severe white haze. For those of you who know your Direct Normal Irradiation levels, Ouagadougou and the surrounds receive about 1500w/m2 annually. For such a sunny country that isn’t very high and it’s due to the intense dustiness. Increasing the power of the Lytefire by 20% compensates for this.

As part of our package we also included a gas powered baking oven for those months of the year when there is simply too much dust (Harmattan wind season) and for the rainy season (July-August). The cost of LPG gas is very high for village life and so we’re very much looking forward to the accounting data the ladies have agreed to share with us. Martin will be in regular contact with them and if they need any refreshers or troubleshooting he will be there for them.

Here, Lorin poses with some very happy new bakers:

Congratulations to the women of Goghin Women’s group and to SOS Burkina Énergie for sustainably going solar with Lytefire!


Solar baking in Haiti with Remar

Posted Monday 25 January 2021 by Lorin Symington.

Next up in our series of engagements with the amazing NGO Remar, I visited Haiti in order to install a baking oven on the roof of the orphanage that Remar is running in the Tabarre neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.

The last time I was in Haiti was in 2014 to build our Lytefire4 in collaboration with Haiti Communitere. It was a quick visit, just long enough to reacquaint myself with my main man Mackenson, buy materials, build the concentrator, cook some delicious food with the help of Fabienne (watch her going solar here), and then get back to Canada. Unfortunately we had no one who, at the time, was able to manage the project long term.

Happily, this has now changed. I reached out to a young man I met while I was in Haiti in 2012 who left a lasting impression. Louino Robillard is a powerful young community organizer deeply involved in Cité Soleil, the roughest neighborhood in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Right now he’s running the Konbit Bibliyotek Cité Soleil.

I reached out to Robi and asked him if he knew anyone who could help me get the project started in Haiti before I arrived in Nov. 2020. I told him this person needs to be good at communicating, well organized and if not already experienced with metal fabrication, at least experienced with working for NGO type projects. He gave me the contact info for one Makenson Merisca and after a 30min video call, I knew I had found my project manager in Haiti.

Makenson is a young family man, humble, quick to laugh and has worked a number of jobs that have prepared him to be our Solar Fire representative in Haiti. He’s worked with a number of my friends and colleagues and has been a licensed heavy truck driver for a number of years. He was filled with questions and already had in mind a number of potential clients. Mak is from Foret des Pins, some of the last forest in Haiti and he knows how important it is to preserve the trees for his children and Haiti’s future.

The Remar orphanage is taking care of about 20 young boys, providing a safe space for them to grow, learn and play. The orphanage is in a nice big sprawling house in Tabarre, not far from Doctors Without Borders. There are solar panels on the roof, clothes drying lines, friendly teachers, some very vocal dogs and a lovely young woman named Antonia who is one of the primary caregivers and who will be the resident baker-in-chief. The goal of the project is to enable them to bake bread and treats for the household and also bake bread, cookies and bonbon sirop (a local muffin like treat) for the neighbourhood and bring in a little extra money to the orphanage. No trees shading our Lytefire up there on the roof, but with tropical storms in mind we knew we would have to make a few structural changes to the Lytefire design in order to quickly and easily be able to lay it out flat and strap it down to avoid the worst of the wind.

Makenson dove right into finding all the materials needed to build the Lytefire5 and finding a workshop where we could build it. Luckily enough, one of his neighbors runs Haiti Energy Mixte, a renewable energy education and product sales company. Romane is a jovial Rhasta who grew up in Germany but who has been living in Haiti for most of his life. Trained as an engineer in Germany, he’s using his skills to teach about and install renewable energy systems in Haiti. He’s experienced with wind, photovoltaic and a wide variety of solar concentrators.

After my (much needed) 2 weeks rest / self isolation (I had, after all, traveled from Burkina Faso and spent 44 hours in planes, trains, airports and automobiles) we got to work. It brought me no end of joy that we managed to reconnect with Mackenson from my earlier visits to Haiti and Mackenson was our primary welder while we built the Lytefire5 for Remar.

Haiti is a challenging place to operate. The security situation is even worse than when I was there in 2012 with gang violence and kidnappings at all time highs. Luckily, Makenson knows his way around the streets and peeps, so, I think largely thanks to him, I never had any issues. I got a little apartment 10 minutes from the workshop, we bought all the materials and we got to work cutting, drilling, tapping and welding.

With a good project manager and workshop partner in place I took care to train Makenson (who despite not having much experience in the metal fab shop proved quite adept and eager to learn), Mackenson and Romane because the ideal outcome would be that they would be able to continue doing installations and delivering projects in my absence as the newest Solar Fire country office. It looks like this will become a reality thanks to Makenson’s ambition and network… keep your fingers crossed!

After a more than a few generator breakdowns and tool problems, we finished a beautiful Lytefire5!

Romane was especially interested in the operation of it since he had trained on a variety of other solar concentrators which he confided to me were extremely complex *coughschefflercough* and not particularly well adapted to developing world context.

We ran a quick hands on technological training session on how to install or replace mirrors and how to calibrate the focal point. I was extremely happy with the speed at which Remar’s staff were able to pick up the needed skills (especially Antonia!) and I barely had to instruct Makenson or Romane at all.. they both picked up focal point calibration like they were born to do it.

As luck would have it, my baker friend Fabienne, who you might remember baked some pretty epic pineapple upside-down cake on the L4 back in 2014 was available to train Remar people in the finer points of pastry and bread baking.

For a few days we baked bread and cake and took pics and made videos while enjoying the sunshine on the roof. As usual, people were very impressed by the power of the Lytefire5. Fabienne was particularly impressed saying that it baked faster and more evenly than some of the ovens she had used while working at hotels - high praise indeed!

Haiti is near to my heart, and despite the difficulties of operating in the country, I know that we will have great success there because we have a team of true believers who are doing everything they can to ensure that the country has a prosperous and sustainable future. We all hope to play a significant part in connecting Haiti to the riches of the sun and making this proud nation once again a shining pearl of sustainability in the Caribbean.


A new solar bakery in Burkina Faso

Posted vendredi 27 novembre 2020 by Lorin Symington.

We’re very happy to announce the success of our collaboration with the NGO Remar in Burkina Faso. We have officially opened of a brand new, Lytefire powered bakery in Burkina Faso after some weeks of training with the ladies of Remar.

At the request of Remar, an NGO operating in 70+ countries, we worked with their local welding staff to build a Lytefire5 with baking oven, a bakery building, and conducted entrepreneurship and bakery skills training. Remar is taking care of 150 vulnerable peoples on the edge of Burkina Faso’s capital city of Ouagadougou and they are looking for every advantage possible. For one thing, buying bread from the outside costs a considerable amount of precious cash. Thanks to funding from Remar Espana & Remar Schweiz we were able to train Remar welders to build the Lytefire 5, build a new building to house the bakery, buy the equipment and train the ladies of Remar for success in their baking initiative.

This project had the added spice of starting before the WHO declared a global pandemic. In fact, just after finishing the training of the fabricators and the production of the first Lytefire5, project manager Lorin Symington was in the Philippines to follow up on our projects there and meet with the University of Eastern Visayas and the Philippines Coconut Authority to explore the possible avenues for solar thermal to contribute to adding value in the coconut value chain. Lorin left the Philippines just as PH instituted a very early and very strict lockdown. By the time he got the Burkina the world was in a panic and isolation was advised.

Flash forward a few months and Remar/GoSol projects are planned for Haiti, Niger and Mali. During the first months of lockdown Remar and GoSol managed to secure additional funding to ensure exceptional results of the project in Burkina including enough to warrant building a brick and mortar bakery, buy a mixing machine and build a team of local professionals capable of ensuring appropriate training for the women of Remar and ongoing support.

The bakery was officially launched in October and we are happy to report that they are producing +100kg of bread per week as well as 5kg of ‘Madeleine’ personal sized cakes for sale in the city. They’re saving a bundle and making an income on top. The women report being more confident after receiving training because they now have the vocabulary and skills to run a business and earn money to contribute back to Remar, which, as an organization, has done so much for so many of them.

For us, it was truly inspiring to see these ladies, many of whom have not been in school for many years, pick up their pen and paper and calculate profit and loss scenarios while their babies hang on their hips. At first, it was hard to tell which baby belonged to who, because all the babies were being passed around so much. At first, the toddlers were not in class, but once the classroom segment was done and it was time to bake, there were kids constantly underfoot. We had a class full of 15 women, some as young as 15, others 50 years of age, and they cooperated to ensure that everyone, regardless of health condition, literacy level or number of children, had the chance to participate in the training and learn the needed skills to run a small business.

With our aspiring GoSol team in place in Burkina Faso, we are continuing to provide support to this fledgeling business, the success of which gives hope for widespread adoption of direct solar thermal energy systems and an end to deforestation in the Sahel.


Crowdfunding for a Solar Bakery in Burkina Faso

Posted Wednesday 1 April 2020 by Lorin Symington.

We are very happy to have launched a small crowdfunding campaign to support two dynamic guys in Burkina Faso to create a solar bakery and cultural space.

Adama Bafiago, an artist and activist, was an early supporter of our first crowdfunding campaign in 2015. He immediately saw the potential for Lytefire technology in his home country of Burkina Faso. Ever since then he has been messaging us a few times a year asking when we would be able help him and his friend Issaka to stop baking like this:

As luck would have it, our new partner Remar selected us for a project in Burkina Faso and so we finally have a chance to help Adama and Issaka to go solar and stop burning so SO much wood!

As you’ll hear in his videos, Adama has a vision for Burkina Faso. He wants to raise the standard of what bread is. In Burkina, the ‘baguette’ is the standard form of bread, though it hardly resembles the tasty, substantial loaf you would find in Paris. Here, it is a fluffy, snow white cloud with a crisp outer shell that tastes of cardboard. It is baked industrially and with chemical yeast.

Head over to their campaign page to read more about them.

Adama’s vision is to create a bakery that turns local produce like maize, sorghum, millet and mooring into healthy, substantial sourdough using solar energy. As an artist he wants to capitalise on all the attention that they will get and create a cultural space where people can come together to be nourished body, mind and soul, with good food, music, theatre and knowledge sharing.

Here’s a little taste of music from Burkina Faso:


Building in Burkina Faso with Remar

Posted Thursday 27 February 2020 by Lorin Symington.

We launched a new project with Remar International in Burkina Faso to empower women entrepreneurs. As always we fabricated the solar units locally, in cooperation with local metalworkers. Our chief builder Lorin was in Burkina for 2 months to facilitate the first phase of this project.

I first visited West Africa in 2007 when I spent 6 months in Mali. During my research at the time, Burkina Faso jumped out at me as a place that was in desperate need of Lytefire technology. And now, finally I get to bring our solar concentrators to Burkina Faso!

Lorin and the Remar apprentices measuring and marking.

The country of people of integrity
That’s what Burkina Faso the means and it was named like that by President Thomas Sankara, in 1984, in his courageous attempt to free the country from French colonialism. It is a landlocked country of 20 million people, devoid of any petroleum wealth and with few other resources. Burkina Faso is ranked 182nd out of 189 on the Human Development Index, which is to say that it is one of the least developed countries on the planet. There’s a 9 months long dry season and an incredible amount of dust. It is “winter” now, but the temperature hits nearly 40°C every day and during my first month I didn’t see a cloud. If ever there was a country that could profit from direct access to solar energy, it’s this one.

People in the capital city Ouagadougou (pronounced wah-gah-doo-goo) are friendly and often dressed in brightly coloured traditional fabrics. There are bananas and avocados for sale on the side of the road, and strangely enough, many apples, strawberries and grapes, the origins of which are still a mystery to me. The country is an ex French colony, and one of the many ways that the colonial legacy lives on is in the daily consumption of bread.

GoSol has been contracted to build a Lytefire 5 baking oven for Remar International, a Spanish NGO that has been working in Burkina Faso for over 20 years. They’re planning a bakery training centre at their compound in the Nioko 2 neighbourhood and their intention is to empower a group of women to earn a more consistent living.

Bako, head welder at the Remar garage, learning to calibrate mirrors.

Remar, our new partner
Working with the Remar workshop crew is fun and challenging. On the one hand, Bako, their main welder who they have supported since he was a boy, is well experienced and a real stand up guy. It’s great to see the structure Remar has put in place to provide a safe learning and growth experience for these youngsters. His spirit is one of Hakuna Matata, to borrow a phrase from our Swahili sisters and brothers. He’s always smiling and eager to learn. On the other hand, he has a handful of apprentices who are… a handful. One is nicknamed the ‘minister of losing stuff’, another is the minister of breaking stuff, another is the minister of confusion… you get the idea! No build is complete without a few tools burning out and some unexpected delays, but with a little luck and perseverance we’re making it work and in the end everything went just fine.

The team, proud to see it all starting to come together.

I’ve never had a more challenging time finding the materials to build Lytefire than in Burkina. For the first three days we heard ‘impossible’ many times when it came to finding sheets of stainless steel. I now know two shops that sell them. Likewise for fiberglass or mineral wool insulation, though eventually we managed to find the one place that sells it. I estimate that it took me 12+ hours of hunting to find fiberglass mat (which we use to protect and hold in place the window on the oven). 2 or 3 mm mirrors were simply impossible to find and we were eventually forced to get those mirrors from neighbouring Ghana where, it turns out, they are cheaper than just about anywhere else I have ever bought them. I bought enough for 5 Lytefires because I have a good feeling about the future of Lytefire in Burkina Faso.

On the hunt in the Ouaga Steel Market.

The Lytefire is now installed at Remar’s training center for women so stay tuned for the next updates from this project. On a side note, Lorin met some very interesting entrepreneurs while he was in Burkina Faso and we are starting a small crowdfunder for them to equipt and train them with Lytefire. Please have a look here: https://lytefire.com/adama-and-issaka?var_mode=recalcul


Solar Entrepreneurship: GoSol’s SOL5s maximise profits
for cashew nuts producers

Posted Tuesday 20 August 2019 by Lorin Symington.

The Best Agri Products Processing Cooperative (Bappco) is a busy hive of activity. Six days a week the men and (mostly) women of Bappco are hard at work processing cashews. The amount of attention that they pay to each individual cashew is really impressive. If you’ve ever wondered why cashews are so expensive, read on and discover the steps involved and how our SOL5 is enabling this cooperative to maximise their profits.

Above, one of our SOL5 trainees, Gina Munleon, long time member of Bappco, adjusts the focal point during our training session. Previously, Bappco depended on tabletop ‘turbo roasters’ powered by electricity. On more than one occasion while I was in their space there were extended blackouts, effectively bottlenecking their production.

In addition to the roaster, our local partner CarbonCycle wanted us to develop a a new application to remove the toxic liquid contained within the shell of the coconut (for more information on that, see the previous blog post). This will help to streamline their production flow and it means that they don’t have to depend as much on outside service providers.

Read on for an overview of the processing performed by the lovely ladies of Bappco.

Sacks of cashew nuts are dropped off and are dumped out to be sorted. Misshapen, mouldy or off-colour nuts are sorted out and discarded. Then the nuts are spread out in the sun for pre-drying.

Next, they are either shipped to another community for fire-frying to extract the cashew nuts shell liquid (CNSL) or they are cracked directly, in which case the ladies must coat their hands and arms in vegetable oil to avoid irritation due to the acidic and toxic nature of the liquid. For cracking/splitting, Bappco has several table mounted nut splitters. Once the nuts are cracked, the kernel is extracted and either peeled or not peeled depending on the desired final product.

Next, the cashews are dried in a big electric drier. Up to 100kg of cashews are dried for 3 hours and then are ready for roasting. Until recently, Bappco would use a tabletop ‘Turbo Roaster’, a 1200w convection roasting chamber. The Turbo roaster can ‘white roast’ 2kg in about 20 minutes and needs to be stirred every 2-3 minutes to ensure even roasting. For lightly browned ‘toasted’ cashews, the process takes 35 minutes for 2 kilos. Our SOL5 toasts twice as fast and can roast beans without using the pre-drier, enabling Bappco to overcome electricity costs!

Next is sifting and sorting, where whole cashews, half cashews and bits and pieces are separated, then weighed and packaged. Each cashew is individually handled 4 times, and are handled in bulk an additional 4 times.

With our technologies in the production line, Bappco can now supply more cashews to their local markets and is making significant savings on electricity. Again, with the help of our local partner CarbonCycle and the University of the Southern Philippines (USTP) we’ll be gathering data and establishing just how much benefit these eco entrepreneurs are having on the environment as well as their bottom line.


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