[Stoves] Two current articles on stoves and stove projects
xvr.brandao at gmail.com
Thu Aug 4 10:55:14 MDT 2016
The Caravan article Crispin shared is a perfect illustration of the
distrust for the improved biomass stove technology.
The World Bank CSI is a pragmatic approach I believe, it is an example
of how a far-from-ideal situation can be assessed fairly (the cookstove
sector needs work on standards and protocol, it needs building on best
practices), and how it can be the basis for a call for action. The WB
asks not to lament, but to work on improving what can be improved.
I am also more of the optimistic kind, and the optimism, we need to
share it: why do we think biomass cookstoves are still worth working on?
Why are we still doing what we do despite the previous setbacks?
I feel we should make ourselves ready to answer important, and valid,
questions such as the ones from The Guardian or the Caravan articles.
This is advocacy.
I am not sure we are completely prepared to do so.
At Prakti we have interacted with a lot of other stakeholders, other
social businesses, distributors and NGOs, investors. And sometimes also
journalists. And sometimes we hear: "oh, another cookstove company" "oh,
cookstoves have been around for a long time, but haven't really taken
off". We sometimes face scepticism, worse, defeatism. With almost the
idea the cookstoves are not necessary. If we believe they are, we need
to hear and consider their arguments, then to have thought about our
arguments as well.
First, I feel we might need to think ourselves more as a community or
sector, with common goals and interests. Healthily competing or rather
working together on a common issue.
"There is no "stove community" but a slum of labs and computers, each
hut producing its own meal and emissions."
Research efforts are indeed scattered and lack coordination. But I
believe there is a stove community, and quite an active one.
Participants and readers of this list have a lot in common. Communities
are nothing but the sum of all individualities after all. We are
scattered, but it doesn't mean we cannot work better together. I see a
lot of exchange and collaboration here. And everyone is trying hard.
And as a community, I feel we have to explain what we do, advocate why
our cause is important and why our action is still relevant. And if it
is still relevant. I believe it is. So before being able to answer, we
must make our own in-depth self-assessment.
This is what the GACC is doing by representing us and lobbying for us,
there is also the CLEAN network in India, and some other organizations.
But additionally, we might want to agree on certain things. And this
stovelist is still the most lively space for exchange.
There is an initiative of French intellectuals called "Manifeste
convivialiste". They are advocating that, in order to make the world a
better place, rather than focusing on what they disagree on, they should
focus on what they agree on.
That could be something like:
"We as a sector are facing challenges: biomass combustion is extremely
complex, our target markets are challenging. Our efforts are scattered.
But our mission remains extremely important, and the improved biomass
cookstoves remain a relevant solution to the global problem of unclean
For example, that is a start. From there, what is the first of these
challenges, and how to tackle it?
Let say the first and main challenge is the complexity of biomass
combustion (problem) -> we need more R&D to understand and find ways to
improve it while making stoves cheaper (solution).
A few persons mentioned in the article seem to agree:
* “My sense,” Saran said, “was that the problem needed top-level
* “We started out with the dream of a global innovation competition,”
Rajendra Prasad, a professor at the Centre for Rural Development and
Technology at IIT Delhi, one of the official stove-testing labs,
said. “And now we’re back to mud stoves.”
* Scientists who spoke to me on cookstove design frequently compared
their challenges to rocket science. The technical problem is
surprisingly difficult. Combustion of solid fuels such as wood,
dung, coal and agricultural waste is far more complex than that of
gases or liquids such as LPG or diesel. Lighting a wood stove can
set off many more chemical reactions than burning gas, and the
emissions process can’t be modelled easily—understanding depends on
trial and error. Scientists also know less about solid-fuel
combustion than they do about rocket propulsion. Stoves are not a
glamorous technology, and have attracted relatively little research.
A scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi told me
that students are so embarrassed to be working on a stove project
that they ask to call it by another name.
So, there is a need for a lot of work, and there is a need for top
engineering and scientific talents. How to attract top talents?
* with R&D budget and attractive wages
* with good communication about our sector
* by simply ... going and talking to them. Telling them about our
work. And trying very hard to build partnerships.
But first we need to assess that we need them, and that R&D is the
problem. And I have the feeling we believe a bit too much that we are
gonna sort all these issues by working in our garages on our spare time
and by organizing stove camps. Don't get me wrong, stove camps are great
and lead to a lot of information being exchanged. But this is far from
being enough, we need to be much more ambitious. We need renewed efforts
and smart ways to attract, develop, and retain talents. At Prakti we
have put an increased emphasis on that, for example we have an ongoing
partnership with Engineers Without Borders U.K.
Because today, frankly:
1. What are really the efforts done on fundamental research on biomass
combustion for cookstoves? Who is seriously working full-time on
2. With what manpower?
3. Is this research organized?
4. Is it heavily financed as it should be?
5. Do we really think this research effort is up to the challenges we
If we answer "No" to the question 2 to 5, then we have a start, and we
know where next to put our efforts.
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