In the developed world of today, it is difficult to imagine cooking food over a hazy smoke of open fire for everyday consumption. Unfortunately, this is the reality of life for an estimated 3 billion people worldwide.
In addition to the hassle of such a method of energy consumption as open fires, there is an added danger of hazardous, toxic byproducts from the smoke accumulating in the houses where it is used. Over four million people die annually from indoor air pollution. Burning of wood or oil creates hazardous gases, including carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is not only a notorious greenhouse gas contributing to global warming and climate change, but is also exceedingly dangerous if it accumulates. As the carbon dioxide builds up in houses in absence of proper ventilation, the gas can turn into lethal carbon monoxide.
The usage of wood, oil and kerosene is expensive as well. These fuel resources are also not sustainable, environmentally or financially. As these resources become scarcer, the prices for these commodities also rise, which makes the usage of these fuels for cooking unfeasible.
BioLite, a company that makes energy-efficient stoves and lights, has a solution to these problems: biomass-fueled home stoves. The company initially manufactured camp stoves that utilized easily available biomass such as wood, dried leaves and the like, turning the biomass into heat for cooking as well as other purposes, such as charging a phone or an LED flashlight. The company has extended the same principle to the manufacture of BioLite HomeStoves. Their cookstoves have been distributed in many developing countries, including India and Uganda.
The stove uses the same energy sources as used in open fires, including wood. The difference lies in the efficiency of energy consumption. The device harvests and recycles much of the energy produced, therefore ensuring less smoke and harmful byproducts, and more value for the money spent. The heat not used for cooking is converted into electricity by the use of a thermoelectric generator: the electrical energy produced can be used to charge a cell phone. The rest of the energy powers a fan which ensures a continuous supply of oxygen to the fuel being burnt. This is an essential component of the stove, as it increases the combustion of the fuel, which improves fuel efficiency, and reduces the production of toxic byproducts.
The device dramatically reduces the amount of smoke – and consequently toxic gases – produced as a result of open fires. The manufacturer estimates a 91 percent reduction of carbon monoxide produced as a result of using BioLite HomeStove and 94 percent smoke reduction. The usage of this stove over traditional methods also saves poor families $200 annually, on average, by using almost half as much fuel per year. The two watts of energy produced can be used to charge a multitude of portable devices.
With all the advantages that the BioLite HomeStove has to offer, it still has a pricing issue. The stoves cost about $100, and although the device gives a return of almost twice its value within a year, the price might make it inaccessible for many people. Despite these initial problems, the success of the device is likely to spur further innovation that can overcome these difficulties as well.
– Atifah Safi