Image credit: fishermansdaughter, used under Creative Commons license.
From building your own masonry rocket stove, through distributing efficient cook stoves in Haiti, to the New Yorker's coverage of the Aprovecho Research center, the idea that burning wood much more efficiently could help slow climate change and aid developing countries is no secret here on TreeHugger. But it seems like the idea may be spreading—with international aid agencies around the globe championing low-cost, ultra efficient stoves that could change the lives of millions. There's just a small question regarding what is the best way to do it. Rocket Stove Science
NPR has a great piece covering both the principles and the politics of the rocket stove. The article is a useful starting point for anyone wondering why rocket stoves are quite so efficient:
"The stove is made from a steel 55-gallon drum, but that belies the precision engineering of what's inside. A well-insulated combustion chamber made out of a special steel alloy concentrates the fire of just a few sticks of wood. The combustion is more complete than what you'd get in an open fire, burning the particles that usually become smoke. The hot gases are directed around the cookpot. As the water boils, the stove's metal skin and stovepipe barely get warm, an indication of how little heat is wasted."
Rocket Stove Politics
Besides the mechanics of the stove though, there is also a philosophical debate underway. On the one hand we find traditionalist NGOs like Aprovecho which have championed open-source, locally-built cook stoves, with the idea that by seeding micro-entrepreneurs around the Globe you can both hone the efficiency of stoves, and also create economic development in the process.
On the other hand, however, are people who argue that the need is too urgent, and progress too slow, not to opt for a more commercial solution:
"There have been thousands of stoves programs; I'm familiar with hundreds of them," says Bryan Willson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State University. "And it's hard to identify programs that have been successful." Willson says it's time to bring 21st century capitalism to bear. "There's a global need for 500 or 600 million cookstoves," he says. "And nobody is willing to write a big enough check to donate our way to that solution. So we really need to be able to develop products that people will want to buy."
Willson and his team started a company called Envirofit which manufactures clean-burning cookstoves for the developing world—and even Aprovecho has developed a stove-manufacturing arm.
Ultimately, as with so many things, it seems to be a false choice between the open-source, grass-roots approach of teaching people to build their own stove, versus the centralized, commercial yet efficient approach. Most likely both will serve their purpose in different communities, and with over half the world still cooking with solid fuels, the main thing is to get moving.
More on Efficient Cook Stoves
Envirofit & Shell Create Efficient Cook Stoves for India
Rocket Stoives: Build Your Own Ultra-Efficient Cook Stove (Video)
Rocket Stoves Aid Relief Effort in Haiti
The New Yorker on Efforts to Hone Efficient Cook Stove Design