The use of polluting fuel-burning stoves by half the world’s population – including 80 percent of rural households – is a documented contributor to a host of health problems. Poor households not only have to contend with the ill health effects of dirty water and poor sanitation, the fumes from burning dung, wood, coal or crop leftovers lead to the deaths of more than 1.6 million people a year from breathing toxic indoor air (WHO).
The polluting stoves have also been identified as major contributors to climate change. The soot from the fires produces black carbon, now considered a significant contributor to global warming. While carbon dioxide is the number one contributor to rising global temperatures, black carbon is second, causing 18 percent of warming.
Getting black carbon levels down is being seen as a relatively inexpensive way to reduce global warming while gaining another good: cleaner air for poor households. The soot only hangs around in the atmosphere for a few weeks while carbon dioxide lingers for years, so the impact can be seen quickly.
A flurry of initiatives across the South are now designing, developing and testing clean-burning stoves to tackle this problem. The number of initiatives is impressive (see list of clean-burning stove initiatives by country: http://www.bioenergylists.org/en/country), but the test will be who can develop stoves that poor households will actually use and find the right model to distribute them to half the world’s population.
In India, the Surya cookstove project is test marketing six prototypes of clean burning stoves with poor households. Developed by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, the six stoves are still undergoing field testing. Initial criticisms from users have focused on the stoves’ durability and overly clinical appearance.
Cost will be critical to success no matter what the stove’s final design: “I’m sure they’d look nice, but I’d have to see them, to try them,” Chetram Jatrav in Kohlua, central India, told the New York Times. As her three children coughed, she continued that she would like a stove that “made less smoke and used less fuel” but she cannot afford one.
Envirofit India – founded in 2007 as a branch of the US-based Envirofit International – is at a more advanced stage, already selling clean-burning stoves across India and the Philippines. It claims to have already sold over 10,000 stoves to poor households.
They have developed high-quality stoves in four models: the B-110 Value Single Pot (a simple stove for one pot), S-2100 Deluxe Single Pot (a sturdier design), S-4150 Deluxe Double Pot (two burning surfaces), S-4150 Deluxe Double Pot with Chimney. They have been designed to be visually appealing for households – in tasteful colours like blue and green – and using high quality engineering for durability.
They have been tested by engineers at the Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory and are certified for design and environmental standards.
The stoves are on sale in 1,000 villages in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh. The stoves have already successfully undergone pilot testing in Chitradurga and Dharmapuri. The manufacturer uses a network of dealers, distributors, village entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organizations to make the stoves commercially available for purchase. They hope to have 1,500 dealer outlets by the end of 2009.
“Envirofit clean cookstoves have received an overwhelming reception in India,” said Ron Bills, chairman and chief executive officer at Envirofit. “Our cookstoves are not only meticulously engineered to reduce toxic emissions and fuel use; they are also aesthetically designed and durable. Envirofit takes great pride in offering high-quality, affordable products to typically underserved global markets.”
But once again price comes up as a major issue: Envirofit’s stoves are designed to last five years, and thus they cost more than other stoves for sale in India. An Envirofit stove costs between 500 rupees (US $10) to 2,000 rupees (US $40): existing stoves sell for between 250 rupees (US $5) and 1,000 rupees (US $20), and last a year at most.
As one blogger complained: “The envirofit stoves … are way beyond the capacity of the low income households who form 65% of the Indian population. Only the 10% of the middle to higher income segment can go for them… perhaps the price can be brought down by reducing the showy part of the stove to help the poorest.”
Envirofit is part of the Shell Foundation’s Breathing Space program, established to tackle indoor air pollution from cooking fires in homes and hopes to sell and place 10 million clean-burning stoves in five countries over the next five years.
Published: May 2009
A video shows the installation of clean-burning stoves in Peru, South America. It also has links to many other videos of clean-burning stoves and how to build and install them.
Designing a clean-burning dung fuel stove.
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