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Earth Technology

Engineers Aim To Make Cleaner-Burning Cookstoves For Developing World 147

Posted by samzenpus
from the home-cooking dept.
vinces99 writes in with news about a new cookstove design for developing countries. "About 3 billion people, or 42 percent of the world's population, rely on burning materials such as wood, animal dung or coal in stoves for cooking and heating their homes. Often these stoves are crudely designed, and poor ventilation and damp wood can create a smoky, hazardous indoor environment day after day. A recent study in The Lancet estimates that 3.5 million people die each year as a result of indoor air pollution from open fires or rudimentary stoves in their homes. More than 900,000 people die from pneumonia alone, which has been linked to indoor air pollution. University of Washington engineers hope to make a dent in these numbers by designing a cookstove that meets a stringent set of emission and efficiency standards while still being affordable and attractive to families who cook over a flame each day. The team has received a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to design a better cookstove, which researchers say will use half as much fuel and cut emissions by 90 percent."
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Engineers Aim To Make Cleaner-Burning Cookstoves For Developing World

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @12:55PM (#44856691)

    From the concept art this looks like they are making a simple rocket stove and putting a pot skirt on top. There are quite a few people working to develop low cost, efficient, and nonpolluting cook stoves for poorer countries, but most of them use natural materials (stone, brick).

    I'm just wondering how much one of these things would cost? Looking at the sleek concept art, I'm guessing more that a family living in a mud hut and cooking with twigs and cow dung can afford.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:03PM (#44856757) Journal

      From the concept art this looks like they are making a simple rocket stove and putting a pot skirt on top. There are quite a few people working to develop low cost, efficient, and nonpolluting cook stoves for poorer countries, but most of them use natural materials (stone, brick).
      I'm just wondering how much one of these things would cost? Looking at the sleek concept art, I'm guessing more that a family living in a mud hut and cooking with twigs and cow dung can afford.

      Not to mention that, if you're burning stuff, then poor ventilation in the vicinity of the stove will defeat much of the intent (health, clean-burning, etc.). This remains so, however well the stove may function in a better location.

      • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Monday September 16, 2013 @09:29AM (#44862501)
        A good design means all the carbon ends up as CO2 and all the hydrogen as H20. Poor design means carbon monoxide and poisonous compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and whatever else is in the fuel. Alas, without venting, the nasty stuff in the fuel still stays in the house, but since the design is more efficient less fuel is required.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:05PM (#44856771)

      I initially assumed that the design would use natural materials - otherwise, what use could it be to anybody?

      It's about time we started taking Appropriate/Intermediate Technology [wikipedia.org] more seriously as a concept.

      • by rubycodez (864176) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:28PM (#44856935)

        do tell, what "natural materials" are suitable for making a stove that don't require massive amounts of energy to modify for the purpose? If you are going to suggest a giant clay stove I'll laugh at you, they exist but only in places in no need of this article's stove, for an excellent reason.

      • by plover (150551) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @03:04PM (#44857415) Homepage Journal

        I initially assumed that the design would use natural materials - otherwise, what use could it be to anybody?

        If it were my team, I'd be looking at ways to build it from natural materials first, found materials second, and using a minimum amount of manufactured materials. Found materials could be anything, from a length of pipe, to corrugated steel, an automobile muffler, a metal grate, or even brass AK-47 shell casings. They'd have to be ubiquitously common, and really cheap or free to obtain. They might even do some field work to learn what kinds of materials fit those qualifications in poor villages around the globe.

        But building is separate from design.

        I'd want to first design and test it out of materials perfectly suited for the job. Make sure the design actually reduces emissions as required. Then, start substituting the parts for scavenged materials, and learn what impacts those choices have. Does using a rusty exhaust pipe for a smokestack emit lead? Don't use it. Does a flat rock substitute for the heat shield? Great. Does a corrugated sheet metal shroud only have half the thermal efficiency? Ok, but maybe there's a different shape that would make it better if that's the materials you think people will have available to them.

        But maybe they find that some key part is critical to reduce emissions, and it has to be manufactured. They then have to find a cheap way of producing them, while keeping them compatible with a wide range of other parts. I wonder if $900,000 will be enough.

      • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Monday September 16, 2013 @10:02AM (#44862807)

        What do you consider "natural materials"? If you're limiting them to dirt, water, rocks, and plant material it's pretty difficult to get a good design, particularly since the plant material can't be used because it burns up. Still, as long as "dirt" isn't just sand, then water and dirt can be used to make brick, adobe, and with high enough temperatures free-form ceramics. They ought to be able to make a decent stove, complete with venting, with those materials, and the cost is labor and fuel to heat mud into bricks/adobe/ceramics. Heck, adobe is sun-dried.

        Spalling is going to be a problem, and such a stove would probably need frequent repair.

        The stylish artist's conception in TFA looks like a waste of money.

    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:30PM (#44856951) Homepage Journal

      Seems like they add a chimney around the fire so the updraught pulls air in at the bottom a la Dresden.

      Things like this made of recycled materials (biscuit tins, bits of cars) were around 20 years ago.

    • by plopez (54068) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:16PM (#44857809) Journal

      I think the barrier may be social and cultural. How people eat is very fundamental to their culture and hence how they cook. There are other designs for efficient stoves for the 3rd world out there but there does not seem to be much uptake. This may be more of a job for Anthropologists and Social Workers than Engineers.

  • by Osgeld (1900440) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @12:55PM (#44856697)

    And fire places, people have been successfully using them for hundreds of years without killing themselves. Lets face it people, if your burning bullshit in a 50 gallon drum to cook your food "yet another better stove" isnt going to do you much good.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @12:58PM (#44856721)

    That number is so high, it positively smokes of bullshit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:14PM (#44856845)

    It's called rocket stove and can be built easily from different material:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_stove

  • Similar project (Score:3, Informative)

    by cold fjord (826450) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:25PM (#44856907)

    This reminds me of this project: Potential Energy (formerly The Darfur Stoves Project) [potentialenergy.org]

    Popular Mechanics covered it in this article: Low-Tech Stove Saves Lives in Sudan's Darfur Region [popularmechanics.com]

  • by CODiNE (27417) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:27PM (#44856921) Homepage

    Rocket stoves work pretty good. They burn at a higher temperature and consume more of the fuel while reducing emissions. Very easy to construct and cheap to fuel with just sticks and leaves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:27PM (#44856927)

    A recent study in The Lancet estimates that 3.5 million people die each year as a result of indoor air pollution from open fires or rudimentary stoves in their homes. More than 900,000 people die from pneumonia alone, which has been linked to indoor air pollution.

    Yep. And of course no one mentions how cigarette smoking is still quite prevalent in the countries that rely on said stoves.

    Folks - especially you engineers - beware when numbers are stated. Aside from engineering and science, the rest of the World is quite fast and loose with numbers.

    Mhy recent argument with an engineer regarding a revenues number:

    "This number is unrealistic. I don't see how they got it."

    BSME: "They got it from somewhere!"

    Me thinking: "Yeah, out of their ass!"

    Anyone can spout numbers. Take a Cost Accounting class ( or just read a fucking book about it) and realize that - it's not complete horseshit, but horseshit fertilizes the numbers.

  • by fastAlan (3092855) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @01:49PM (#44857065)
    Maybe they just need to provide pressure cookers to everyone? See this article with a rudimentary table comparing cooking time: http://missvickie.com/library/investment.html [missvickie.com]
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @02:32PM (#44857257)

    Run it hot on clean, dry wood at full power for as long as you can, the thermal mass you surround it with will absorb the heat.

    Oh wait, the reason folks burn crappy wet wood in inefficient stoves is that they're poor, or they're too sick from dirty water (50% of all premature deaths on Earth are from bad water) to gather wood. How does this help that problem?

  • by tlambert (566799) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:34PM (#44857909)

    So these guys, but 3 years late to the party?

    http://www.cleancookstoves.org/ [cleancookstoves.org]

    I guess mechanical and chemical engineering masters students all need a thesis subject...

  • by khb (266593) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:41PM (#44857949)

    http://www.biolitestove.com/homestove/overview/ [biolitestove.com] for the "homestove" which is intended for folks who need it "full time". Yes, it is more expensive, but they are working on funding sources.

    One of the funding sources is us outdoor geeks, on their website you can find the campstove, the campgrill and the upcoming pot. Some of their profits go towards their homestove work.

    I've got the campstove, it does a very nice job. Perhaps by next summer I'll invest in the grill.

  • by jkmartin (816458) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:10PM (#44858077)
    This is silly. Even if you were able to mass produce this item and give it away for free it would still be the most expensive item these people own and a target of thieves. There's currently a project on Kickstarter for a solar oven that has pretty much the same goals. It costs $300, the main component is a glass tube, and it's completely worthless. It has raised $80,000.

    This design is nothing but a rocket stove which can be made from a variety of found components by someone with minimal tools and knowledge. We'd be better off spending that $900,000 on training a few guys to travel around these regions to set up stove factories and train the local population on the concepts. Not only would we be teaching them how to build their own stoves we'd be supporting the local economy. Teaching a man how to fish, so to speak.
  • by pongo000 (97357) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:24PM (#44858171)

    ...but isn't man's disruption of the natural processes that keep the population in check a direct contributor to the world overpopulation problem? From a strictly scientific point of view, drastically altering the mortality rate of the world's population by decreasing it (and increasing the birth/death ration) can't be a good thing. Many of these people have lived generations in their current environment, so why does a first world country believe they have the right to disrupt nature in such a drastic way?

    So a first world country solves the woodstove problem, thereby decreasing mortality rates. Are they prepared to then step in and deal with inadequate water supplies, increases in loss of arable lands, higher rates of infant mortality, and other side effects of overpopulation?

    • by bluegutang (2814641) on Monday September 16, 2013 @07:46AM (#44861863)

      ...but isn't man's disruption of the natural processes that keep the population in check a direct contributor to the world overpopulation problem?

      No, On the contrary, population is increasing rapidly in Africa now, and is stable or dropping in all Western countries. Without exception, economic development has led to women's education which has led to near-replacement or below-replacement birthrates. Improving Africans' health will lead to a small temporary gain in population, and a much larger drop later on. The longer you wait for economic development, the larger the population and environmental impact will be later on.

      Many of these people have lived generations in their current environment, so why does a first world country believe they have the right to disrupt nature in such a drastic way?

      These people are not "nature". They are human beings like us, and they massively impact their environment. In many ways, they cause more of an impact than we do (they don't have much of an environmental movement, for example).

      So a first world country solves the woodstove problem, thereby decreasing mortality rates. Are they prepared to then step in and deal with inadequate water supplies, increases in loss of arable lands, higher rates of infant mortality, and other side effects of overpopulation?

      Like I said, solving the woodstove problem is one step in the road to a lower population. But even if that weren't the case, have you thought about the moral aspect of letting people die when it's in your power to save their lives?

  • by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:41PM (#44858287)

    My suggestion would be some form of multi-fuel gasification system. Its highly efficient and produces very low emissions. The problem would be simplifying its operation, making it smaller & engineering it so that it didn't require electricity (for the blower).

  • by heilbron (122789) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @06:23PM (#44858575)
    This is not really totally new news! Another effort to develop a cheap (approx. 8 Euro) useful cooking stove with a chimney is described here: http://ofenmacher.org/index.php?sfwi=201&sflng=1&sfcr=&sfci=103651 [ofenmacher.org] by the German non-profit group 'Die Ofenmacher'. The stove avoids injuries and respiratory problems, while reducing the amount of wood needed. It also provides an employment opportunity for local stove makers!
  • Bloody university PR departments presenting every research project as if it's some Eureka moment.

    "For over a decade, cookstove experts and enthusiasts have gathered at Aprovecho [Research Center] [aprovecho.org]". In 2009 The New Yorker had a long article [newyorker.com] about stove enthusiasts designing better stoves, what's changed since then? The Chinese are already cranking out Rocket stoves in volume; other commenters have linked to www.cleancookstoves.org, Biolite, etc.. The problem isn't engineering, it's economics and cultural.

    Meanwhile, any stove still requires spending hours collecting firewood, contributing to deforestation and CO2 emissions. As an adjunct people can put food in a black pot in an insulated container heated by a cheap solar reflector. But now you've got two $20 purchases per family, one of which only works part of the time. Meanwhile the U.N. spends millions trucking fuel into refugee camps. Again, the problems are NOT engineering ones.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:44AM (#44860577) Journal
    This should be about making a CHEAP, nearly fail-safe, anaerobic digester, that will take human and animal waste and create methane. It needs to allow easy run-time loading, rather than batch loading. With such an approach, it solves multiple issues.
  • by opus_magnum (1688810) on Monday September 16, 2013 @04:03AM (#44861251)
    In the third world?
    Are those significantly cheaper than the ones they had before?

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