The New Yorker on Designing a Stove to Save Millions


Image: Adrian Tomine
Clean stoves have hit the big time, or at least attracted the attention of the EPA, World Health Organization, United Nations, and Oakridge National Laboratory, all of whom have taken an interest in cheap, hi-tech stoves and their potential to save lives and stabilize the climate. The latest "World Changers" issue of the The New Yorker carries a great (and quite long) article by Burkhard Bilger called "Hearth Surgery," which paints a thorough state-of-the-union on clean stove technology and the leaders who are trying to bring it to the several billion who still live with open cooking fires in the home (check out a generous abstract here).The article pivots around Stove Camp, the tenth weeklong gathering of ragtag stove enthusiasts, engineers, health policy professionals--what Bilger likens to a "hippie Manhattan Project." Hosted by the Aprovecho Research Center, the goal of Stove Camp is this: "how do you build cheap, durable, clean-burning stoves for three-billion people?"
The Aprovecho Research Center is credited with birthing the rocket stove, a chamber-within-a-chamber design that seems most promising in meeting the key criteria: a cheap stove that uses less fuel and doesn't fill a kitchen with deadly smoke.

The Aprovecho Research Center won the 2009 Ashden Award, which we wrote about back in June. Aprovecho is now working with a Chinese factory that can produce half a million of its StoveTec stoves a year. See the vid below.

And in case you underestimate the significance of getting the smoke out: it's estimated that 1.6 million people die yearly from breathing smoke from open fires, and that smoke is the sixth leading cause of premature death in the developing world.

There are two main camps trying to take this clean technology to scale: Aprovecho's StoveTec and Envirofit. Bilger gives both ventures good coverage in his New Yorker article.

In a fascinating tributary of the story, Bilger follows Berkeley professor Kirk Smith down to a small village in Guatemala where the National Institute of Health has been running a long-term study of cooking practices and their health consequences. In San Lorenzo in the western highlands, villagers and their homes are covered with wireless sensors that monitor air quality and stove use down to the very second. At one point, Smith insists that a mother take her coughing child to the clinic, only to find the child is suffering from severe pneumonia, a result of breathing acrid wood smoke in the family's tiny kitchen.

More on Clean Stoves
Turbo-cooker Wins Prize for Clean Burning
Rocket Stoves: Build Your Own Ultra-Efficient Cook Stove (Video)
High Efficiency Stove Models Come to Africa (Planet Green)

Tags: Air Pollution | Air Quality | Appropriate Technology | Cooking