[Stoves] Why is it still so difficult to design cookstoves for 3 billion people?

Mangolazi mangolazi at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 14 02:38:07 MDT 2016

I'm a newbie in this field and this is a very "hot" subject in more ways than one, but here's my 2c. 

Stoves aren't sexy large-scale tech, so international donors and aid agencies may not be enthusiastic in promoting them. As for users, there could be reluctance to try something new when a 3-stone fire or mud stove has been good enough for so long - you would need to demonstrate how these new stoves save a lot of time, fuel and money before users are convinced to switch. Maybe emissions is the least important consideration for the majority of users. 

I'd get this stuff out there, make it good enough and make it cheap, while empowering local producers and users. Don't sweat the numbers, just get as many stoves on the ground as possible. 

On June 14, 2016 2:16:35 PM GMT+08:00, Xavier Brandao <xvr.brandao at gmail.com> wrote:
>Hello Stovers!
>I haven't posted for a long time, but reading the Stovelist is still a 
>real pleasure to me: lively debates, breakthrough stove science, many 
>people working on many initiatives, with a lot of energy, that's great 
>to see, that's emulating!
>Sorry for the long email, but there are here a few ideas I wanted to 
>It's been some time since I wanted to share this article from the 
>Guardian, it was sent to me by Minh, a previous colleague of mine, who 
>also worked on the GERES project in Cambodia. I don't think it has been
>shared on this list, but I think it talks about just the most 
>fundamental of our problems:
>"*With all the knowledge and technology we have at our disposal, why is
>it proving so difficult to design and create simple and efficient 
>cookstoves for the three billion people who use them in the developing 
>is the question asked by T. Alexander Aleinikoff, the United Nations 
>deputy high commissioner for refugees.
>The question I would have is more the following: "why don't we know why
>it is proving so difficult?"
>I mean, after decades of stove development and dissemination, there's
>least one thing we should know, it's where our difficulties come from!
>But here's a tentative answer to Mr Aleinikoff question: the principles
>behind biomass combustion make it extremely difficult to do stoves that
>are both cheap and practical, and very clean. But, like anything, I 
>believe this is not impossible, and this is a problem we are working on
>And for now, when a stove developer decides to make a stove, he/she 
>chooses almost systematically the latter aspect: clean combustion. You 
>know the rest of the story: the stove is expensive and impractical to 
>use, barely good enough to boil water for tea, and users don't buy it
>use it.
>I'm being caricatural but this is what happens too often.
>/*Stove science is lagging behind, not stove marketing*/
>I have done a great deal of reading since I've started working on 
>stoves, years ago. Reports are piling in our digital library at Prakti.
>We will keep reading and piling them, for sure. At the same time I have
>been trying to extract the very nectar of these reports, and try to get
>an understanding of what really matters.
>In my opinion the stove sector knows what works in terms of 
>dissemination, distribution and marketing. Most of the reports are
>marketing and business models. Marketing to the BOP is very well 
>documented. It seems to me that every new edition of Boiling Point from
>HEDON talks about this or that project: involve women vendors, 
>demonstrate the stoves, pay attention to early adopters and opinion 
>leaders, use mobile phone technologies, listen to the feedback, find 
>financing solutions, etc. I think we know all that. And some projects 
>are working great. You do good marketing, you make a lot of efforts,
>reap the rewards.
>But all agree it starts with one thing, it starts with a great product.
>This is where the stove sector is lagging behind. No offense meant to 
>all the great researchers working on stoves.
>Stove marketing is currently waiting for stove science. Stove science
>lagging behind, because as I mentioned stove science is so complex.
>challenges come with clean combustion. Marketers wait for scientists to
>sort a few things out: scientifically correct, and scientifically 
>relevant protocols first. Then A LOT of testing will be necessary, a
>of data, to understand combustion, to understand variables, to 
>understand stoves. Then, good design, good engineering, great products.
>Once the great products are there, salers and marketers and project 
>implementers are reading to pick them up, and to sell them to the BOP.
>A side note: I'd love to see HEDON and similar publications focus more 
>on the hard science, and how to help it, to accelerate it. These are 
>questions worth writing about.
>So what I call a great stove is not a Tier-4 stove that works perfectly
>in controlled testing settings. I am gonna be again very caricatural: 
>Tier-4 is accessory, it is bonus.
>A great product is simply product a customer loves, buys and uses. A 
>great stove is a stove that is used.
>Some of you certainly experienced that: you give one day your new 
>prototype to a woman user. Skeptical at first, she agrees to leave her 
>traditional stove for a week, and start using your new stove. You come 
>back one week later. She is using it every day, for lunch and dinner. 
>She loves it. She put her ceramic stove on the side, actually, it is 
>nowhere to be seen. Your new stove has become the kitchen stove.
>It's only for experiencing this kind of feeling that I work so hard. 
>This is when this happen to you that you know you have a great stove. 
>/*Cookstoves: super practical vs super clean */
>I picture the stove sector as a large mountain, with 2 camps on its two
>feet. The 2 camps are separated by the mountain in the middle.
>•    In one camp the infamous smoky traditional stoves, and very next
>them, the vast majority of users, using them every day
>•    In the other camp, stove developers and manufacturers, reaching 
>Tier-4 in their expensive labs, with complex technologies and expensive
>stoves. And their very limited dissemination numbers.
>The 2 camps don't communicate much with each other. What happens is
>often a new recruit joins the stove developer camp. He/she chooses the 
>techno-push approach. The new comer comes up with a slick design, cool 
>materials, excellent lab results. But many restrictions are imposed to 
>the product use, it should take this fuel, not this fuel, be lit this 
>way, be tended this way, etc. And as Crispin was mentioning in one of 
>his last posts, so many important things are left during the
>Great disappointment is the reward of so much of work when the users 
>don't accept the new product.
>Priya Karve rightly emphasizes the importance of delivering a cooking 
>service, not a cooking stove. At Prakti we work on the "cookstove 
>system" (stove + fuel + cooking vessel + operator + burn cycle). 
>Traditional stoves give an excellent cooking service! They are great 
>cooking tools! They are just awfully dangerous for health.
>/*Next actions: a few ideas*/
>I believe both camps can meet together, on top of this mountain. 
>There'll be extremely clean and usable stoves, hopefully soon. There is
>some good progress happening already.
>But to be sure to succeed, I would start my climb at the basecamp where
>all users already are.
>What I think stove developers should do:
>•    Change your perspective: consider that traditional stoves are 
>great. That they are fantastic. Because people have been using them for
>thousand of years. They must have something special, right? Start by
>judging them.
>•    Spend a lot of time with the users. See them cooking. Cook 
>yourself, cook on the traditional stove. See how easy it is with the 
>traditional stove.
>•    Then build your own stove based on the traditional stove. Big 
>stove, easy to use, sturdy, large opening, easy to tend, large 
>combustion chamber, lot of power, fast to cook.
>Give it to users. Have 
>them use it, have them like it.
>•    Your stove is being used everyday, it is being adopted. 
>Congratulations! Additionally, you might have seen by now, and your 
>future customers remarked it too, that the new stove, even if it's far 
>from being Tier 4, is actually much less smoky than the traditional
>•    You've reached your usability baseline, that's your prerequisite, 
>the bar has been set. Don't cross it now. Always keep the stove as
>•    Set a bar also for price. Keep the stove cheap. Its production
>be affordable. This is a prerequisite too.
>•    From there: work on improving performance: emissions and wood 
>savings. It will be difficult. But you can improve it, by a lot.
>•    If you are working on a breakthrough technology, see how you can 
>introduce it to your usable cheap stove, without lowering the bar you
>•    Work on the breakthrough technology in isolation, if necessary. If
>the technology is not ready to be engineered into a good stove, so be
>At Prakti, this is what we are currently doing, working both on 
>incremental progress, and breakthrough technologies. Both are
>but both hold promises.
>I was saying previously that stove marketing 
>was waiting for stove science. In fact, it's not. It cannot wait. Stove
>are being sold, marketed, for better of for worse. Funders, programme 
>managers, private companies, want to see stoves in the field, they want
>to see numbers.
>Now, in my picture, I didn't mention that great projects, not only in 
>humanitarian context, are on the other side of the mountain, they have 
>chosen to improve traditional cookstoves, with simple design changes. 
>GERES, GIZ, SNV among others have worked on such projects. Materials 
>must be found locally, price must be cheap. Local artisans must be the 
>manufacturers of the stove. They have had great success, large numbers 
>This is a proven approach, but what I advocate is to go even further, 
>and businesses and manufacturers are part of that.
>It is not to improve a traditional stove, but to develop a new stove, 
>that has the same qualities as this traditional stove. This is a small 
>nuance. And work on making this stove clean.
>The approach is to use much more science, much more engineering. To 
>think in business terms. Make a product which can be mass-manufactured,
>which can be scalable. Our customers love the portability of our
>this is for example something we want to keep.
>It is said there is not one-size-fits all. That's debatable. Have you 
>seen how similar mud stoves in Africa, in Asia look like? Close to the 
>ground, big front opening. Why is the Jiko such a hit, all over Africa?
>Isn't the 3 stone fire the world's most successful one-size-fits all
>We need funding to go to R&D. This is something I advocated at the
>Cooking Forum in Delhi last October 2015, and is still very actual to 
>me. At Prakti we've been very lucky to have funding from the GACC and 
>other funders for our R&D work. It helped a lot. This needs to
>and on a much larger scale.
>Radha Muthiah rightly says in the article that, these are the article 
>words, "the market is fragmented, with a lot of small and medium-sized 
>entrepreneurs who may not have the appropriate design and manufacturing
>skills". I fully agree with that. A possible way to address this issue 
>is to fund work that can benefit to the whole sector, especially R&D 
>work. Besides testing and protocols, works on materials, work on
>work on combustion. Crispin said in the volume 69, issue 8, that the 
>long term future of stove materials is glass and ceramic, and more 
>investment should go in the research on those. There are several areas 
>that research can explore.
>Companies sell shampoo to the BOP, they sell soft drinks. Here in
>cheap smartphones are everywhere. A lot of R&D money has been spent so 
>these products could be made, and now successful technologies and 
>successful marketing go hand-in-hand.
>There is no reason that we cannot achieve that soon as well with
>Xavier Brandao
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