bio lite
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

Sources: BioLite Stove, Acumen
Photo: fm.cnbc

It’s black, it’s dirty, it’s smelly, and it’s often dangerous to obtain, yet it has the power to keep billions alive. Coal. An energy source for people on Earth for hundreds of years. Coal-burning can heat homes and provide power for massive electrical grids around the world. But the question being asked today is whether or not coal can cure poverty. Some believe it can while others maintain that other options must be explored.

First, the nonbelievers. On June 26, 2015, Huffington Post published an article, titled “No, Coal is NOT the Fix-All Solution to Energy Poverty,” that dove into analyzing how and why coal isn’t cutting it as a global fuel source. The article stemmed from Pope Francis’ encyclical “On the Care of Our Common Home,” a critique on the increasing global warming crisis as a direct result of human energy consumption. The pope’s message sent shockwaves throughout the world raising arguments for energy reform.

An excerpt from Huffington Post says, “Although fossil fuels and renewable energy are not mutually exclusive in aiding development efforts, the truth is that this claim is just another attempt by the industry to justify the continued use of fossil fuels.” The truth is, there are other more energy efficient ways out there to provide energy to the poor, but the powers that be don’t want the public to be aware.

One such energy source that is becoming more and more viable to the poor is solar panel technology. According to the Huffington Post article, solar panels are now less than half of what they cost in 2010. This technology is emerging as a legitimate rival for the coal industry, as well as developing into real hope for those in poverty across the globe. In addition to the growing industry of solar panels, global organizations such as the World Bank have stopped financing renewable resource projects worldwide with exceptions to rare situations.

As for the advocates of coal, the case is significantly weaker. An article by World Coal on June 24, 2015 makes the case for coal as the salvation to global poverty. An excerpt from this article reads, “On a global scale, coal fulfilled approximately half of the increase in energy consumption in the last decade. In the last century, the amount this source has produced is as much energy as nuclear, renewable, fuel oil and natural gas combined.” While this statistic appears impressive, it fails to acknowledge the crippling effects to our atmosphere. Coal is a good fuel source, but it comes at a great price. Billions of people on earth depend on coal to survive, but even more billions feel the effects of global warming because of it. So, do we need more or less to cure poverty?

– Diego Alejandro Catala

Sources: Huffington Post, World
Photo: Total Health Care