Microformer Construction in Santiago, Chile

Patricio flew to Chile on May 25th, 2011 and met with Lorenzo Reyes, who is the engineer in charge of the Huatacondo project, officially called the Sustainable Enrgy Condor or ESUSCON (Energía Sustentable Cóndor). Even though Patricio kept in close contact with Lorenzo before the trip, this meeting represented the first time they met in person. They both worked the first week in Santiago, Chile at the CE-FCFM office, discussing the technological solution that was going to be applied in Huatacondo, as well as the administrative details regarding the students’ involvment. After reviewing the milestones and objectives, they developed a plan for the work in the following weeks.

Later that week, Patricio met with the people who later became the so-called “Microformer-Santiago team”. Manuel Gatica, a thesis student at the Electrical Engineering department of the FCFM, was to lead this team. In addition, Manuel will be developing a comprehensive Microformer model the coming semester at the university as part of his thesis work. Manuel introduced the undergraduate students to Patricio who would help in the construction and testing of the Microformers. These students were Belén Zúñiga, Roberto Bobadilla and Sebastián Espinoza, all of them involved in the “Undergraduate Project Workshop” class under Prof. Rodrigo Palma. This team received documentation from The Microformer Team about a month in advance, so they were already familiar with the terminology, components, and procedures.

The second week was intense, as the students were building the new Microformers. As decided in the meetings with Lorenzo, a total of eight Microformers were needed. The source materials were acquired from local stores such as Homecenter (equivalent to the Home Depot in the U.S.). However, there were two key components that were acquired from different places:

  1. Paint cans: it was extremely difficult to find good paint cans. In general, used cans were in bad shape, even for the best ones, and sending these used cans through a cleaning process was effort and time intensive. New cans were impossible to find in the local Santiago consumer market, but they were available through the manufacturer. The paint cans were available in wholesale only, and the minimum quantity was 24 cans, which was okay for our situation. Additional Microformers may be built in the future. Each paint can has a price of about $1.50.
  2. Microwave Oven Transformers (MOTs): In a country like Chile, the amount of electronic waste is by far lower than the one in a country like the USA. Therefore, it is difficult to find broken or discarded microwave ovens. In contrast, what you usually find in Chile is a bunch of repair shops all around the country, spread throughout every city, which service appliances like televisions and microwave ovens. Those shops are an ideal place to find broken microwave ovens. In our case, we directly found the MOTs in a shop in Santiago selling these components for about $10 each.
Photo 1. Paint cans sitting in the lab, waiting for future Microformer assembly
Photo 2. Four microwave oven transformers stand ready for analysis and future assembly

Considering all the materials and components, each Microformer had a cost of about $30, including the mineral oil and a basic protection device (automotive fuse).

The Microformer-Santiago team began the construction of the Microformers later that second week. The process was straightforward as the students were following specific instructions and guidance from the Microformer team.

Photo 3. Students worked in the lab, analyzing MOTs

The first stage was the MOT testing. For this task, the students took eight MOTs and tested them. A few modifications recommended by the Microformer Team were performed on the MOTs. Tests included parameter and efficiency estimation.

Photo 4. One student built a resistive load bank for MOT testing

Photo 5. Students learned about MOT analysis using geometrical methods

Photo 6. Another student modified the MOT by removing the magnetic shunts

The second stage involved enclosing the MOT in the paint can. For this stage, the terminals were built on the paint can lid, and the hook-up wires were also installed on the MOTs. Finally, the MOTs were glued to the interior floor of the paint can. The oil was not poured into the can yet, because the Microformers were going to be shipped by plane as luggage, and liquids such as oil are forbidden.

Photo 7. The final set of finished Microformers wait for final assembly

After a full week of intensive work, the Microformer-Santiago team concluded the work by preparing the Microformers for shipping.

Photo 8. The Microformer-Santiago Team shows off its new Microformers!

Photo 9. The Microformer are packaged, readying them for the trip to Huatacondo

Finally, Patricio took the Microformers, and setup the flight for them to Iquique, Huatacondo’s closest city with an airport. The following 5 days (length of the stay in Huatacondo) were set to be the most intense days during this trip to Chile.


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The Microformer is a low-cost, post-consumer electrification concept. We believe it to be ideally suited for developing nation communities and off-grid renewable system integration.
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