[Stoves] Two current articles on stoves and stove projects

Xavier Brandao xvr.brandao at gmail.com
Thu Aug 4 10:55:14 MDT 2016


Hello all,

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.

Nikhil said:

"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 
cooking."

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
    technology.”
  * “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
    combustion?
 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
    are facing?

If we answer "No" to the question 2 to 5, then we have a start, and we 
know where next to put our efforts.

Best,

Xavier

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