Burn design lab
Cookstove visionary Peter Scott initially started Burn Design Lab (BDL) in 2010. After growing concerned about the deforestation issue in Africa, Scott became determined to develop the world’s best cookstoves. With parts from Bob Powell’s metal shop Meadow Creature and a workplace in Vashon’s Sheffield Building, BDL was ready to expand and test new designs. In 2013, Paul Means joined BDL as Research & Testing Manager, and between 2013-2016, a natural draft wood stove—which would become the Kuniokoa—came to be. By 2015, Peter Scott had left BDL to work with Burn Manufacturing Company to create a charcoal-burning stove. Now under Mean’s leadership, BDL has expanded its partnerships to Kenya, the Philippines, Guatemala and Ghana.

Burn Design Lab’s Process

Over time, BDL has established a detailed iterative approach to its development process. Instead of a hard step-by-step process of stages, the group has adopted more of a cyclical process. One cycle consists of conceptual design, computer-aided design, prototype fabrication, user research and laboratory and field testing. After a cycle, testing results and user input then goes back into the process to further improve the design. An iterative approach makes versioning easier and guarantees every step. Though this process may seem lengthy and repetitive, it offers a rapid turnaround and is easily adaptable. With this plan in mind, BDL has been very successful approaching many of its beneficent products.

Past Projects

In the past, Burn Design Lab has been quite successful executing different plans and solutions. In partnership with Burn Manufacturing Co. in Kenya, BDL developed in The Kunioka in 2016 for use in East Africa. With financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy and investments from Unilever and Acumen, this wood-burning stove revolutionized Kenya and Tanzania’s agriculture industry. Not only was this stove incredibly eco-friendly, but it was also cost-effective for farmers and plantation workers at only approximately $38.

In addition to its past projects such as The Kunioka, BDL has also been successful in its current endeavors. Right now, BDL has a partnership with the Burro Brand Ltc. to develop an improved shea roaster for the citizens of Ghana. The current process for roasting shea kernels is very unsustainable and has many health consequences. BDL and Burro have worked through many design and testing iterations to produce the best product for utilization. The goals of the project include reducing wood fuel consumption by 40 percent and reducing carbon emissions by 90 percent. As one can see, BDL has worked tirelessly to produce cookstoves that are both sustainable and secure.

Lasting Impact

Burn Design Lab has created a profound solution to a global problem. According to National Geographic, some three billion people cook with open or barely contained fires, leading to many negative consequences such as smoke inhalation. Other health concerns that people associate with this cooking style are respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease and lung cancer. As a matter of fact, open cooking fires produce about 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour. Sadly, those in low and middle-income countries must resort to this as they do not have easy access to reliable and sustainable energy.

BDL has made it its mission to design clean-burning cookstoves that release fewer emissions and require less fuel. With support and determination, Burn Design Lab is saving lives, promoting economic empowerment in developing nations and fighting deforestation.

–  Srihita Adabala
Photo: Flickr

Globally, more than 3 billion people still rely on open fire to cook their meals. This means that nearly half of the world’s population does not have access to sustainable fuel for cooking meals or cleaning water to make it potable. To combat this, many in the developed world have sought to popularize sustainable fuel sources for cooking, such as solar cookers.

Benefits of Using Solar Cookers

Solar cookers work by converting sunlight into energy that can be used to cook food. They provide a plethora of economic, environmental and social advantages over other methods of food preparation. For example, many solar cookers are cheaper than traditional ovens, so using solar cookers can be beneficial economically. In addition, families that use solar cookers do not have to forage for materials to make traditional fires, which can be a time-intensive activity. Solar cookers provide many social and health benefits as well. It is not uncommon for biomass in fires to contain animal dung and residue from crops; when burned, substances like this can lead to a condition known as Indoor Air Pollution (IAP), which has a slew of negative health consequences. Mexico is an example of the dangers of IAP- the country’s reliance on hard fuels is estimated to be responsible for around 15,000 deaths via inhalation and ingestion of toxic particulates.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of solar cookers, however, is the fact that they do not release carbon dioxide, which is one of the main causative factors of climate change. Given this, greater usage of solar cookers around the world will almost surely reduce the global carbon footprint, which will result in a healthier, cleaner environment around the world.

NGOs Working to Expand Implementation of Solar Cookers

The clear upside of solar cookers has resulted in the formation of multiple organizations that exist to advocate on behalf of the global implementation of solar cookers. These organizations have done work all over the world, including countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. Two such organizations are Solar Household Energy (SHE) and Solar Cookers International (SCI). SHE manufacturers solar cookers and also implements field projects to raise awareness about the benefits of using solar cookers. The solar cookers that SHE distributes last between five and 10 years and cost around $25, half of which is paid by the organization. SCI is another organization that works with local governments and NGOs, as well as the U.N., to advocate for solar cookers and poverty reduction. Through advocacy, research and capacity building, SCI has contributed to more than 6 billion solar-cooked meals. The organization prides itself on making change both at the ground level and at the policy level.


Everything said, cooking is a necessity for everyone; as such, it is important that efforts be made to ensure that cooking practices are safe, environmentally responsible, and affordable. As detailed above, there has been good progress made towards attaining these goals recently, and this good work is sure to continue in the near future.

– Evan Williams
Photo: Flickr

Cooking FuelFinding a reliable and clean source of cooking fuel in developing countries is a persistent obstacle for poor households. From using animal dung in East Asia to wood and charcoal in Africa, the simple process of cooking varies greatly in both safety and reliability across the world. Adverse health effects from household smoke have encouraged governments to provide affordable and cleaner options for cooking fuel.

Cooking Fuel in Developing Countries

The youngest and most vulnerable in the developing world are most likely to benefit from cleaner cooking fuels. Since indoor air pollution is most prevalent with the extremely poor — those living on less than $1 a day — providing cleaner options for cooking has disproportionately positive health effects for them.

Traditionally, coal and biomass have been the primary sources of cooking fuel in developing countries and have been particularly damaging in countries that lack access to other viable options. Unhealthy levels of air pollution in homes lead to premature deaths every year. The prime culprit is smoke from coal and wood in poorly ventilated kitchens.

Convenience Over Safety

Until recently, however, convenience has trumped health and environmental concerns. Despite recent efforts to modernize energy use in the developing world, the number of people reliant on solid fuels, such as wood, is expected to grow to 2.7 billion by 2030. Although the adverse health effects of indoor air pollution contribute to 2.6 million deaths per year, there has been major resistance from people accustomed to their traditional way of cooking.

Established types of cooking fuel in developing countries, if not healthy or environmentally friendly, are hard to usurp as the primary source for energy use.  Both India and Brazil have approached the problem through promoting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) usage but from distinctly different angles.

LPG in India

For decades India has subsidized cleaner energy sources such as LPG as an incentive to transition homes from less healthy options, such as wood, charcoal and animal dung.

Although subsidies have been historically inefficient, India has made progress in providing affordable and clean fuel to households through a biometric identification system. Since 2016, India has provided 34 million households with stoves and a free cylinder of LPG.

India has focused on targeted, subsidized fuel for those needing the greatest assistance. In 2012, in response to increasing graft and black market activity, India initiated a Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme of LPG.  The subsidization program has only been possible due to access to individual bank accounts and biometric identifiers; which allows the government access to household’s income levels in order to better target various need requirements.

LPG in Brazil

Brazil, on the other hand, has focused on the market development of the LPG gas industry and promoting education to consumers. Specifically, the government’s approach to promoting efficient and healthy means of cooking has evolved into selling the public on the beneficial qualities of LPG. Rather than subsidized fuel or free LPG cylinders, Brazil has relied on educating Brazilian’s on the use of new stoves, as well as providing a free trial period.

To get accustomed to the new fuel, LPG cylinders and accompanying stoves were offered on a short-term, three-day trial. Once completed, households involved were allowed to either purchase the new cooking equipment or return it. The majority of consumers felt comfortable enough with the more modern cookware to transition to LPG usage. Direct experience with the product, instead of handouts, has been the impetus in Brazil for creating a market for cleaner cooking fuels and stoves.

Allowing poor households to see the benefits firsthand has directly created a demand for LPG. This approach of consumer development, rather than India’s direct cash transfer, could be replicated to provide cleaner cooking fuel in developing countries still reliant on wood, dung and charcoal.

The number of households who opt for cleaner and safer cooking fuel in developing countries will vary in approach. It depends on the level of poverty in the country and the policies the government, and the taxpayers, are willing to commit to.

Reducing deaths from indoor air pollution and providing a reliable source for cooking should be the ultimate policy goal of modernizing indoor fuel consumption. After all, making dinner in the developing world should not come at the price of smoke filled kitchens and declining health.

– Nathan Ghelli
Photo: Flickr

Stoves for developing countries

If you blow the right way at a fire, the flames will burn cleaner and more efficiently. It’s a simple concept, but one that a Brooklyn startup is using to address and overcome one of the biggest challenges to health in developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over three billion people globally use open fires, otherwise known as stoves, that burn coal, dung or wood. Doing so, results in exposure to carcinogens such as carbon monoxide, particulates and other pollutants.

Figures show that four million people die annually from cooking on an open fire from lung cancer, pneumonia and other respiratory and heart diseases.

Scientists at BioLite, a five-year-old startup, have launched pilot programs to sell cheap, safer stoves for developing countries including Ghana, northeastern India, and southern Uganda.

The cylindrical product burns twigs and wood, which leads to 90 percent fewer particulate emissions being released into the air. The stove also creates the same amount of heat with 60 percent less wood and only costs $50.

The stove includes a small fan, which funnels air into the stove to make sure the fire gets enough oxygen. By doing so, the flames burn hot, but in a cleaner way. There are also heat panels on the side, which are used to convert some of the heat into electricity.

By targeting rural areas where people are more likely to rely on burning wood as fuel, the company is hoping to address issues such as women’s empowerment and overall health. Because women in rural parts of developing countries are often the ones doing the cooking, reducing emissions can help to improve their health.

The difficult part of the process, however, is delivery. The areas of a country where the stoves can have the biggest impact are often some of the hardest regions to reach. To ensure successful distribution, BioLite implemented a model that assigns an agent to every village. Each agent will go door-to-door, demonstrating to villagers how to work the stove.

To date, the company has sold 4,000-5,000 stoves in India, and scientists hope to sell one million around the world in the next four years. According to BioLite’s website, the stove has helped to produce almost 14 million watt-hours of electricity, avoid over 15,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and allow more than 29,000 people to breathe cleaner air.

Matt Wotus

Sources: BioLite, InsideClimate News, World Health Organization

Photo: Flickr


Olive oil: in a salad, it brings together flavors and nutrients with healthy and delicious results. In the Middle East, it brings together farmers in Israel and Palestine to change a narrative typically consumed by violence and hatred.

Olive Oil Without Borders is a project of the Near East Foundation, which has spent the past 100 years promoting reconciliation and development in the region. So far the project, which ended its first iteration in 2014, has brought more than $20 million into the Palestinian economy and involved more than 3,000 Palestinian farmers.

The project, which is also supported by USAID, was started due to production surpluses in Palestinian olive oil and production deficits in Israeli olive oil. This means that Palestinian producers were creating more oil than they could sell, while Israeli producers were having trouble meeting a heavy demand. Through this problem, a solution was born—something that could unite those pitted against each other by a troubling political situation.

Thus, in 2005, Olive Oil Without Borders was founded. Objectives of the project include economic empowerment and cooperation, as well as cooperation to promote reconciliation in an area torn apart by conflict and blame.

This is done through mutual training and education, with the knowledge and techniques of farmers of both nations being used to support advancement in the industry. According to olive farmer Muhammad Hamudi, the program brings about cooperation simply through the fact that it is mutually beneficial. “We have things to teach, they have things to teach. They use modern techniques, we have experience and knowledge.” Often times, working together can be brought about not by desire, but by necessity.

The second edition of the project launched in January. This project has the potential to bring more money into the Palestinian economy, advance production techniques in the olive oil industry and bring about lasting reconciliation to a long-lasting conflict, one olive at a time.

Andrew Michaels

Sources: Global Citizen, Good Magazine, Olive Oil Without Borders, Olive Oil Times
Photo: Good Magazine

In 2013, Gregor Schaper, a German entrepreneur, installed a series of circular solar panels in a town just outside of Mexico City. This is the home of Schaper’s Solar Reflector.

The Solar Reflector is comprised of solar panels that follow the course of the sun throughout the day to maximize absorption while focusing its light on one point throughout the year. This is similar to when a kid tries to use a magnifying glass to start a fire. The heat is collected as the Solar Reflector follows the sun and is then projected onto one specific spot in a kitchen.

This specific spot can reach up to 1000° Celsius, making it useful for baking, cooking and frying. The temperature is kept consistent with an integrated stone core in the kitchen. The Solar Reflector itself is made up of steel sections with highly reflective aluminum, cut into a 170-square-foot disks.

Trinysol, the company Schaper founded, manufactures the panels and cost about $4,000 to built. Despite the cost, once the Solar Reflector is built, it is free to operate and produces no greenhouse gas emissions. On average, each reflector saves 16 gallons of gas each month.

For small to medium sized businesses, this technology could be game changing. For small restaurants, bakeries and tortillerias, it could save money when the price of fossil fuels is high, creatubg jobs all the while. In addition, since the Solar Reflector projects the light right into their kitchen, it saves people from from going outside and braving the heat during the exceptionally hot summer days.

“Tortillería La Fe” in El Sauz near Mexico City was one of the first small businesses to use Schaper’s Solar Reflector. According to Schaper, the shop used to spend over $1,000 a month on gas in order to cook tortillas but now gets it for free with the Solar Reflector. The initial cost of the Solar Reflector is significant but the outcome is worthwhile.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: Empowering People, Future Challenges, Inhabit, Venture Beat
Photo: Inhabitat

bows_and_arrowsGenerations of young girls were eager to shoot a bow and arrow after reading The Hunger Games. Of all the characters, none aimed as precisely and mortally as female protagonist Katniss Everdeen.

Although it is not a method for battle or hunting in America, shooting a bow and arrow is still the weapon of choice for Wachiperi people in the Peruvian Andes.

Traditionally, the bow was designated for male use. For centuries, men used bows to snag monkeys, other mammals, fish, and birds. While men hunted, women gathered medicinal plants and performed household chores. Boys began training in archery and hunting at age five, while girls learned to help their mothers with cleaning and cooking.

Today, however, the traditional practice is evolving because of modern-day influences. Women and girls do not want to rely on men for food, and therefore, want to learn the ancient art of archery.

For the most part, the Wachiperi community supports this decision.

Sergio Pacheco, a skilled Wachiperi archer says, “The world is modernizing, and women are starting to want to use the bow. They say ‘We are just women in the family, so what happens when our father dies? We need to learn this to be able to take care of our families.’”

Pacheco spoke at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in June 2015. A skilled archer and traditional doctor amongst Wachiperi people, he shared his cultural knowledge, skills, and wisdom with the audience.

Pacheco explained how hunting has become more difficult due to loggers and miners, who have destroyed the natural habitat of former prey. Men are typically gone for longer days in search of game.

He also described the jaguars that often threaten the Wachiperi community. Twice, he has used bows and arrows to kill the animals.

In addition to discussing hunting practices, Pacheco sang healing songs—called esuwas—for the crowd. He says, “Pills hurt your body because they are chemicals. When I’m sick, I cure myself with only plants.”

Despite his persistence that traditional medical practices are better, he does not question the younger generations—male or female—when they ask to learn archery.

Watch out Katniss Everdeen, you might have some competition coming from Peru!

Kelsey Parrotte

Sources: Amazon Books, NPR, Smithsonian Institution
Photo: Smithsonian Institution

Nigerian-Immigrant-Tunde-Wey-Successful-ChefTunde Wey is on a mission to “unfetter diners from the tedium of modern American cuisine.” The Nigerian-born chef came to the United States at age 16 with plans to become a doctor. But, after living in Detroit for 15 years, he finally realized that what he really wanted to do was cook.

Geographically just about the size of Texas, Nigeria’s population totals at about 150 million people. Since the country is the most populous in Africa, Wey always felt perplexed as to why food from his homeland was not more obtainable in the United States.

After co-founding a restaurant in Detroit, the Nigerian immigrant began his own “pop-up” restaurant. He aimed to explore America, as well as to introduce people to the food he grew up with. The name of his business, Lagos, is the name of his hometown in Nigeria.

With Greyhound busses as his primary mode of transportation, Wey impressed diners in New Orleans, Chicago and Buffalo and then headed for the East Coast. He would rent out different spaces, sometimes a restaurant and other times communal kitchens, and make his crowd a delicious feast. After continued success, his one-night, one-man restaurant started selling out.

Each night, the chef brought along with him a bag filled with cooking supplies such as alligator pepper seeds, calabash nutmeg and uda, which is a kind of pepper. Wey likened it to a doctor’s medicine bag. He had no formal training and mostly went by what he observed in his childhood kitchen.

“I learned how to cook from watching my parents, my aunt, a lot of YouTube videos… The benefit that I have is that I grew up with this food, so I know exactly what it’s supposed to taste like,” he said.

In fact, as he gained footing in his own kitchen, Wey became more and more aware of how much he missed his family, who he had not seen in over seven years. It is rare, but in some instances, children are sent over to the United States on their own and then later sponsor family members to emigrate and join them. Charitable groups and advocacy organizations help with this process.

Wey was getting major attention from top-notch chefs and was asked to go to Los Angeles to cook with celebrity chef Roy Choi in February 2015. But, his trip came to screeching halt when a team of border patrol agents stopped his Greyhound bus near El Paso, Texas. They discovered that his Nigerian passport had long expired.

It was back in 2007 when he allowed his student visa to expire. Wey said, “I just thought: I’ll fix this. I’m going to go back to school, finish and adjust my status somehow. And so it was something I kept putting off.” Nearly 50% of all illegal immigrants are in the same predicament. They let their visas expire and fail to renew them.

Wey spent a few months detained in El Paso and felt as though all of his success in America had hit a wall. Fortunately for him, he had a clean record and many friends and family members who managed to raise $6,000 to bail him out and keep him from being deported.

The backup in immigration court means that Wey’s appointment is not until 2017. A judge will then determine his fate: whether he can stay or whether he must say goodbye to all of his dreams and go back to Nigeria. Until then, he plans to keep cooking and has achieved a prime spot for a new restaurant in New Orleans’ St. Roch Market.

Wey is one of 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, according to the U.S. Center for Immigration Studies. The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that illegal immigrants make up 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force.

– Lillian Sickler

Sources: NPR, Lagos, Metro Times, Eater, Laws, New York Times, Pew Research
Photo: Pinterest

The Poverty Action Lab (PAL), a research organization from MIT, carried out a project that implemented new, environmentally friendly cookstoves for 2,600 households in Orissa, India. Each household contributed a small amount of money to pay for the building of the stove and was given training on its proper use and maintenance. Although the initial take up of the technology was high, families were only cooking 1.8 meals a week on the new stove three years after its implementation. Most had reverted to using their old cookstoves, commonly called chulas.

Indoor air pollution caused by chulas is the second largest health risk in developing countries, after unclean water. Over 70% of all households in India use them. Chulas burn cheap fuels such as firewood, coal or cow manure and create particle matter concentrations of 20,000 micrograms per cubic meter; the recommended limit is just 50. For the people who are around them — mainly women and young children — it is like smoking several packs of cigarettes a day. They cause 2 million deaths in India annually.

The new cookstoves were promoted as a cleaner alternative to traditional stoves that would save families from mental hardship and health expenditures. They would also make them more productive, as adults and children would miss fewer days of work and school. Finally, the stoves were advertised as being more cost-effective as they used less fuel and more time-effective because they decreased cooking times.

Medical checkups three years into the PAL study showed that because they were rarely used, introducing these stoves to poor households even at a very low cost did nothing to change health effects. High levels of blood pressure, a tendency to develop coughs and poor infant health remained the same. People showed the same risks of developing lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases.

In addition to causing health problems, chulas cause environmental damage. Worldwide, three billion people use them, or four out of every ten people. They collectively release 6 billion kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere. That is triple the amount of the daily emissions from all private cars in the United States.

The main issue that seems to have stopped people from using their new stoves was that they required a lot more maintenance, and their unfamiliarity with the technology was an impediment to carrying out repairs. Households reported that they spent hours getting their stoves fixed and cleaning newly added chimneys. Their old way of cooking was easy to use and never broke. Moreover, it was familiar, so people were more inclined to revert back to it when their new stoves exhibited problems.

While the new cookstoves perform well in laboratories and have the potential to drastically decrease health and environmental effects, their effectiveness depends on them actually being used. India launched a National Biomass Cookstove Initiative (NCBI) in 2010 and plans to install 2.5 million cookstoves by 2017. Moreover, Hillary Clinton helped start the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), which aims to install 100 million cookstoves by 2020. Both the NCBI and GACC would do well to conduct long-term studies before spending millions of dollars in initiatives that have little to no impact.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: National Geographic, The Washington Post, Poverty Action Lab 1, Poverty Action Lab 2, Boston Globe, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
Photo: The Washington Post

In Pakistan, 16 million families don’t have access to clean-burning fuels for cooking and heating. The result of this is increased health problems, especially for women and children. A solution has been developed by PAK-Energy to help reduce this issue. Ranked in the list of “10 Incredible Tech Innovations from 2014 that will Benefit Humanity” on the ONE website, PAK-Energy knows where the need lies and seems to be working towards a better alternative for people living in Pakistan.

Ali Raza of PAK-Energy has created a small, sustainable domestic biogas unit that produces biogas good enough to take care of a family’s cooking and heating needs. This biogas unit will also help the family save money by reducing the cost of fuel. The other benefits of it include reducing waste production and producing nontoxic organic residues that can be sold later on for fertilizer.

PAK-Energy has a vision that is committed to becoming part of a green revolution for Pakistan. It does this by providing energy solutions that are more cost efficient and better for the community like the one mentioned above.

So what is biogas exactly? Organic waste like animal manure, kitchen waste, agricultural residue and even industrial waste can be turned into biogas. This biogas can be used for cooking, heating, lighting and electricity generation for families. There are also economic benefits to biogas such as employment generation, industrial growth, additional source of income with fertilizer, rural development, low cost product and create a sustainable economy.

PAK-Energy has received a lot of recognition for its progress in helping the poor for example in 2011, it received an invitation from the Prime Minister of Turkey to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Also within that same year, it one the first prize in the Young Entrepreneurs Business Challenge in Lahore, Pakistan.

So far, PAK-Energy has made a big impact by creating seven pilot projects in Lahore, Pakistan. This helps families save money and it helps the environment as well. As a plan moving forward, PAK-Energy has a goal of 25,000 units to be installed within the next five years.

– Brooke Smith

Sources: ONE, PAK Energy Solution
Photo: Flickr