Interview with Mae-Ling Lokko

Mae-Ling Lokko’s project

Mae-Ling is currently working on a next-generation paneling board made of coconut husk, which is structurally more rigid than wood, easily moldable, and effective at absorbing water.  Combining the abundance of sunshine and absorbability of these panels, they are perfect for absorbing moisture over the nights and evaporating it under the scorching sun.  In the current state, the coconut husks are dried under the sun for months to get rid of 70% of the moisture.  Mae-Ling’s project aims to use panels with many micro-reflectors to facilitate evaporation.  Additionally, Mae-Ling hopes to make decorative Adinkra symbols with coconut husks for building facades.


Cultural significance of Adinkra Symbols

Throughout our interview we learned a lot about the cultural significance of Adinkra. We discovered from our interviewee that the defined edges of Adinkra symbols are the most valued by Ghanaians above all else. She explained that Adinkra was everywhere in Ghana, on homes, clothing, and often tattoos. They have become a symbol representative of Ghanaian culture and history. We also learned that these were being repeated by large fashion cooperations such as H&M, often altered and untrue to Adinkra symbols. Throughout our other interview we discovered that although Adinkra symbols are virtually everywhere, only about ten symbols are well known by Ghanaians. This speaks to the true significance of the symbol


Socioeconomic factors of Adinkra

Adinkra in Ghana is very prevalent. As a result, it has many socioeconomic impacts in Ghana. First, Adinkra is used on 50% of all houses. It is one of Ghana’s largest exports. Mae-ling said that if there is anything that saves Ghanaians energy or money, they are willing to adapt. Also, unlike in America, time is not a factor in their decision-making process. Chinese Adinkra is more interesting, they have taken over the market. Their products are cheaper by $4 per yard. Traditional Adinkra costs over $100 but is regarded as higher quality by Ghanaians. This shows that the ability to create Adinkra ink in a less-expensive method would prove extremely useful to Ghanaians.


Energy in Ghana

Mae-ling told us that the electricity in Ghana is very unreliable due to poor infrastructure. This makes boiling water for cooking very difficult. 80% of energy usage is for cooking. There is not space in more developed areas for a bulky solar concentrator such as what currently exists. A more compact solution is needed for this application. Mae-ling suggested a decentralized approach to energy provision, especially for more isolated areas. Burning wood to create heat has led to mass deforestation–less than 15% of the forests in Ghana remain. Solar panels are very expensive to install and degrade over time. panels for a 100 meter square area cost around $40,000 and must be maintained. Repairs and troubleshooting are done by foreigners who come mainly from China. Inconsistent power supply is a daily problem many Ghanaians face.


Additional and Alternative Applications of the Solar Concentrator

We discussed many different applications for solar power in Ghana. Our initial plan was to use the solar reflector to heat up the adinkra ink for production to replace the 12 hours of constant wood burning. Mae-Ling told us about nano-scale patterns which have the same solar concentrating properties, with a much smaller size. She also mentioned that coconut makes very efficient biochar.

So generalize the use of solar heat, we decided to consider heating water in general. Two big considerations are the size and the safety. The size is important because it needs to turn with the sun and safety has to be considered for the temperatures it reaches and where it should be placed so people have less opportunities to burn themselves.