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Richard Blanchard gravatar image

As things stand it is estimated close to 3 billion people rely on wood or similar biomass for cooking. Even with decades of effort the basic 3-stone stove still dominates. Cooking is a significant challenge for humanitarian situations. Wood fuel must be collected and this is normally done by women or children putting them at risk. It also has an opportunity cost as fuelwood collecting is time-consuming so women and children cannot do other things. In addition, smoke pollution is a significant killer every year responsible for 1 in 6 deaths of children under the age of 5. Finally, it is a cause of deforestation. The fuel to pot heat conversion is low at only around only 5-10% This means large amounts of firewood are required for every meal. There are two approaches to the problem. 1) improve the efficiency of firewood or charcoal cooking. Whilst this does not eliminate using firewood, it reduces the amount of fuel required. 2) use a different cooking fuel. In the first case improved cookstoves aim to reduce the amount of heat lost to the environment. This can be achieved by enclosing the cooking fire which increases the flame temperature and allows for improved combustion with air vents. Improved cookstoves can be made using locally available materials such as clay or from used metal containers. This can provide activity or employment for local artisans. A database of different designs can be found here For example the Tanzanian Ukombozi Mud Stove is estimated to reduce wood fuel use by 50% An alternative to biomass (firewood/charcoal) cooking include the use of the sun. Solar cooking concentrates the sun’s rays on a cook pot. A successful case study is the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad. Since 2006 women have been trained to assemble solar cookers. Plans for the solar cookers are available here The advantages are no need to spend time collecting firewood and no pollution. It does require around 3hrs to cook the main maize based meal, but this can be left so that women can do other things. Cooking can only be done during the day. Research being carried out by and Loughborough University, UK, is investigating the potential of using photovoltaic modules coupled with a battery and electric hob for electric cooking. is showing promise. This would enable the sun’s energy to be stored in batteries during the day for cooking in the evening. The falling price of solar modules and lithium ion batteries mean the produce cost is approaching parity with charcoal costs in some African countries. An excellent resources is the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, who are working to develop markets for clean and efficient household cooking that can empower women and save lives. They undertake research and evaluation of markets, technologies and fuels including testing and product approval. This includes databases solar and biomass cookers that are available around the world.