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

Paul Anderson psanders at ilstu.edu
Mon Jun 27 11:39:19 MDT 2016


While I can support most of your statements and also the desire to creat 
ARTIS centers, in your informative publication about charcoal issues I 
found no mention of TLUD micro-gasifier stoves and their ability to make 
charcoal while doing the cooking tasks.

Char-producing COOKSTOVES adds a whole new dimension to issues of 
charcoal production for cooking.   Perhaps you might make an additional 


Doc  /  Dr TLUD  /  Prof. Paul S. Anderson, PhD
Email:  psanders at ilstu.edu
Skype:   paultlud    Phone: +1-309-452-7072
Website:  www.drtlud.com

On 6/27/2016 2:08 AM, Dr.-Ing. Dieter Seifert wrote:
> Dear Nikhil Desai,
> Thank you for mentioning my „Remarks on Stove Technologies“, which are 
> intended for discussion (also the sections D to E).
> Concerning deforestation and CO2-emission you may find information in 
> my article “Traditional Charcoal in Africa and Need for African 
> Institutes ARTIS”, published since yesterday at: 
> http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Charcoal
> With kind regards,
> Dieter Seifert
> Am 27.06.2016 um 03:09 schrieb Traveller:
>> This is Nikhil Desai again. I am writing in response to Xavier Brandao's
>> original 14 June post. I have read Dieter Seifert's reply and agree with
>> all of his points in Sections A through C of his Some Remarks on Stove
>> Technologies
>> <http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/solarcooking/images/8/8f/Remarks_on_Stove_Technologies_-_Seifert_February_2016.pdf/revision/latest?cb=20160519171524>
>> .
>> I have no expertise in designing cookstoves, so I have no idea why it is
>> STILL so difficult to design cookstoves for 3 billion people. Some of
>> Xavier's observations are on-the-mark, except that they are all about
>> stoves, not fuels. Biomass is not a uniform fuel and the variability in
>> quality across regions and seasons, not to speak of the variability in
>> cooking preferences, make me uncomfortable with his sweeping
>> generalizations about "stoves". I may come back to that point in a later
>> post.
>> I think the main reason is that some fundamental questions have gone
>> unattended. Stoves or fuels in and of themselves are neither dirty nor
>> clean, and when the market for stoves and fuels is properly identified - in
>> terms of cooking habits and preferences, geographic factors, and fuel and
>> stove costs - some stove designers have indeed made some progress in
>> changing cooks' behaviors. "Cheap", "practical" and "very clean" are in the
>> eyes of the user; these perceptions can change and can be changed.
>> Let me pose some questions; they are addressed to the proponents of
>> "biomass stoves for rural poor households in developing countries".
>> a) Who are you designing the stove for?
>> b) What do you know about her and how do you know that is enough knowledge
>> to determine the stove marketability)? (Keep in mind that in the last 50
>> years, young women have become grandmothers or died, and that roughly 3
>> billion children have passed through the age group 10-25, where biomass
>> cooking has subjected them to the drudgery and smoke while keeping them
>> away from education, play, and taking care of children.)
>> c) Why are you designing the stove - in particular, to please the cook or
>> experts in donor organizations (God forbid, pass the RCTs of Remy Hanna,
>> Esther Duflo, and Michael Greenstone?)
>> d) When will you want these stoves to be used and how?
>> and, finally,
>> e) What has 50 years of failure taught you? (You are free to define failure
>> and success in terms of your answers to a) to d).
>> If the intent was to design a stove for only 50,000 cooks for a 10-year
>> period so they prepared better meals that their menfolk liked and beat them
>> less often - or any other desired result - that is fine by me. I would like
>> to see some evidence that this intent has been met ten times.
>> I am skeptical. I think proponents of biomass have forgotten the fuel(s)
>> and looked only at stoves, as an engineering design challenge, sometimes
>> not even from an industrial product designer's perspective. (By comparison,
>> a large number of products for solar LED lanterns flooded the market very
>> quickly, between 2009 and 2012, when I stopped marveling at the
>> design/marketing pushes.) Implicitly or explicitly, the biomass stovers
>> were driven by "efficiency" and efficiency alone. To what end - for a
>> supposedly renewable and "freely available" fuel, I could never understand.
>> (With solar lanterns, the conversion technology became more reliable and
>> cheaper; with solid biomass, I have seen no evidence that fuel supplies or
>> stoves and paraphernelia of fuel management became more reliable and
>> cheaper.)
>> Now there is a drive for miracle biomass stoves - the test being in labs
>> for boiling waters. The test wouldn't offer any metrics other than
>> efficiency and emission rates and under lab conditions.
>> There is a presumption here that ultra-efficient and/or ultra-clean miracle
>> stoves used exclusively will save the trees and/or lives. Not only are
>> definitions and metrics of efficiency and cleanliness unknown or arguable,
>> it is unknown or arguable that even 10% of the current households will use
>> such miracle stoves exclusively, and it is also unknown or arguable that
>> such use will save trees or lives.
>> Some ten years ago I had argued on the Hedon discussion group something
>> like "Maggis noodles has saved more trees than all the improved cookstove
>> programs combined." I know nobody in stove design business ever seeks to
>> deliver on his promises, so I doubt I would be challenged on this.
>> "Anything goes" is the experts' prerogative when messing with poor people,
>> no?
>> "Avoided woodfuel use" does not translate into actual "avoided
>> deforestation". I hear a lot of deforestation is for purposes other than
>> meeting the fuel demands - though once cut, trees can be used for fuel or
>> making charcoal - and that when people own land and trees, they grow trees.
>> Evidence is spotty, but surely the question is not why people cut trees but
>> why they do not grow trees back. In any case, biomass combustion is most
>> definitely not "GHG-neutral", and "GHG-neutrality" of a village, a
>> district, a state, or even a whole country matters not a hoot.
>> Similarly, "avoided woodfuel emissions" - whether or not proportionate to
>> avoided woodfuel use - do not translate into "avoided pre-mature mortality"
>> and certainly not into "avoided deaths". If emission reductions lead to
>> lower pollutant exposures - a big if, for no reason other than that there
>> are no measurements of pollution exposures of these 3 billion (or all 7+
>> billion) people, nor  - and further if such lower exposures lead to lower
>> incidence of corresponding diseases - another big if, since the avoided HAP
>> pollutants could be negated by same or similar pollutants from other
>> sources, including natural - we might see some health improvements. Whether
>> that raises life expectancies, or quality of health, and increases or
>> reduces pre-mature mortality, is anybody's guess. We have no evidence that
>> clean fuels/stoves for some 3 billion cooks (at home or in food preparation
>> for them outside the home) has reduced pre-mature mortality in any
>> quantified manner. (I would be glad to be proven wrong.)
>> Xavier asks a very pointed question - "why don't we know why it is proving
>> so difficult?" I suspect many people know, but do not want to admit it. It
>> is not just that "stove science is so complex", the cook is a complex
>> mammal with different ideas, preferences, habits. If you don't understand
>> the cook, and don't deliver a product that matches her desires and
>> aspirations for cooking experience, you can do as much "stove science" as
>> you want. Maybe that is indeed what biomass stovers have wanted to do for
>> some 50 years I have seen the experiments with stoves, er, people's lives.
>> Failures to deliver what the cook wants means some 500 million children
>> pass through the age group 5-15 (i.e., about 50 million a year) caught in
>> the same old rut; over 50 years, this means some 2.5 billion people (or
>> 1.25 billion new cooks, if exclusively female), while nearly as many have
>> passed on to the next world, having suffered the "wrong" fuel/stove
>> syndrome. (I am assuming that something is wrong, otherwise stovers
>> wouldn't be hammering away at this problem for 50 years.)
>> Nikhil Desai
>> (US) +1 202 568 5831
>>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> Message: 1
>>> Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2016 20:58:45 +0200
>>> From: "Dr.-Ing. Dieter Seifert"<doseifert at googlemail.com>
>>> To: Discussion of biomass cooking stoves
>>>          <stoves at lists.bioenergylists.org>
>>> Subject: Re: [Stoves] Why is it still so difficult to design
>>>          cookstoves for 3 billion people?
>>> Message-ID:<cbbd28ce-63e0-88da-98d5-26c90585cf12 at googlemail.com>
>>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"; Format="flowed"
>>> Dear Xavier Brandao,
>>> Thank you for your informative posting. I agree with your proposals and I
>>> would like to draw your attention to documents about open source cooking
>>> technologies (OSAT) which you find on the website of SCI (
>>> http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Dieter_Seifert)
>>> a) some remarks on stove-technologies:
>>> http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/solarcooking/images/8/8f/Remarks_on_Stove_Technologies_-_Seifert_February_2016.pdf/revision/latest?cb=20160519171524
>>> b) about Ben firewood stoves:
>>> http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Ben_2_and_Ben_3_Firewood_Stoves
>>> * The whole documentation is dedicated to poor households*. Only
>>> standard material is needed. The documentation (including Annexes A ? E)
>>> contains also the devices for production in simple workshops,
>>> *so that the cost of a stove will be below 10 USD.*
>>> c) about cooking with retained heat (a totally underestimated technology)
>>> http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Heat-retention_cooker
>>> I hope this open source technologies may be so helpful, as you described
>>> it.
>>> Kind regards
>>> Dieter Seifert
>>> Am 14.06.2016 um 08:16 schrieb *Xavier Brandao*:
>>>> 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
>>>> develop.
>>>> 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:
>>> http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/cookstoves-design-poor-communities-refugees-unhcr-ikea
>>>> "*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
>>>> world?*" 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
>>>> at 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 tackling.
>>>> 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
>>>> or 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
>>>> about 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,
>>>> you 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
>>>> is lagging behind, because as I mentioned stove science is so complex.
>>>> Many 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 lot 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.
>>>> Adoption.
>>>> /*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
>>>> to 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
>>>> that 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 development process.
>>>> 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 not 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
>>>> stove..
>>>> ?    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
>>>> usable.
>>>> ?    Set a bar also for price. Keep the stove cheap. Its production
>>>> must 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
>>>> set.
>>>> ?    Work on the breakthrough technology in isolation, if necessary.
>>>> If the technology is not ready to be engineered into a good stove, so
>>>> be it.
>>>> At Prakti, this is what we are currently doing, working both on
>>>> incremental progress, and breakthrough technologies. Both are
>>>> difficult, 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 disseminated.
>>> 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 stoves, 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 model?
>>> We need funding to go to R&D. This is something I advocated at the Clean
>>> 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 continue, 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 design, 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 India,
>>> 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 cookstoves.
>>>> Xavier Brandao
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