3 billion people's health is at risk is simply because of how they cook their food. Smoke inhalation from burning wood or charcoal over an open pit leads to 1.9 million premature deaths a year, mostly among women and children who are often home all day. A movement is underfoot to replace those open fires with high-tech but low cost biomass stoves that promise to revolutionize rural health care, significantly reduce deforestation and even curb global warming. We take a closer look at four of these stoves and how the manufacturers are not just in pursuit of the perfect design but how an intense campaign is underway to get these stoves to those who need them the most.
The technology is dubbed the rocket stove, a seemingly simple device that has a large vertical cylinder to hold a pot and an opening at the bottom to feed the combustible biomass to efficiently cook a meal or pasteurize drinking water. While the concept has been proven to be simple, effective and best of all cheap, studies in fluid dynamics, geometry, and advanced materials are leading to very efficient high-tech designs which can reduce the smoke by 95 percent.
Add to that the fact that fuel consumption is reduced by half, which helps to curb expenses for families and slows the clearing of forests just for cooking fuel. All of theses factors make these stoves essential for the long term sustainability of a significant portion of the world population. These stoves are precision technologies that are far superior to homemade stoves, and they are designed to be affordable for even the poorest in the world with prices as low as $15 a unit.
At the front of both the design of high quality low cost stoves and a robust distribution network is Envirofit out of Colorado State University. Their diligent work in developing combustion chambers that meet precise tolerances to maximize combustion has lead to a family of stoves, lead by the flagship G-3300. The stove uses a special low cost, high heat tolerant alloy that, along with a advanced combustion chamber design, reduces fuel consumption by 50 percent.
Designing the stove was only half the work though. Envirofit has opened up offices throughout the world to developed distribution and credit networks to get the stoves to where they are needed. They are on target to sell half a million of the $23 stoves by the end of 2011.
Stovetec in partnership with Aprovecho Research Center produces a hybrid wood and charcoal stove that is based on a special lightweight clay core which improves combustion efficiency but maintains strength for years of use. A special dual chamber allows families to use either wood in the upper chamber or charcoal in the lower one. The double door system also allows for more control of the burning, leaving both open to maximize air intake when starting a fire and partially closing the lower door to maintain the proper temperature.
The Jiko Poa is a Kenan produced stove that uses a ceramic core and sheet metal body. The $15 stove is designed to be manufactured within the community where they are distributed to multiply the economic benefits. While other stove makers have struggled to get viable local manufacturing operations going, Burn Design Lab and The Paradigm Project are looking locally to produce and sell one million of these stove in the next decade.
The newly unveiled BioLite HomeStove makes a leap in usability by brilliantly incorporating a small thermoelectric module that is activated by the heat. A small fan helps improve combustibility and reduces smoke emissions by an astounding 95 percent. A USB charging port is also incorporated to charge cell phones and utilitarian devices like LED lights. Undergoing field tests now, the stove will be available in April 2012. With billions of people in need, it can’t be soon enough.