Innovation: Philips develops a smokeless stove for Africa and India

Ruben Walker, a 29 year old entrepreneur from Amsterdam, thinks he has a solution for open fire cooking in the developing world. Together with his father and in a joint venture with Philips, he started a company that makes smokeless stoves that can be used safely indoors.

Cooking on an open fire is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the world. An estimated 3 billion people still use it as the primary source of energy for cooking and heating.

Not only does that produce immense pollution, it’s also very unhealthy. The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die each year because of health problems caused by smoke (more than tuberculosis and malaria). Up to 500 000 children die each year because of indoor smoke, the WHO estimates.

Additionally, women and children sometimes spend up to three hours each day in search of wood to burn. And of course, the deforestation caused by all that wood burning causes its own ecological disasters, like erosion.

The stove solves all these problems, and would help reach the Millennium Development Goals, say the developers.

The stove was designed by Paul van der Sluis, researcher at Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven. It will be sold by the African Clean Energy Company, a joint venture between Philips and Ruben Walker and his father (who is a former Philips manager).

This is how the ‘African Clean Energy Company’ describes the stove:

The stove principle is not complicated: air is forced into a combustion chamber at the top and bottom of the chamber. Intense heat at the bottom vaporises the fuel (wood, biomass) and the injected air burns the vapour as a combustible gas.

The flame is smokeless once the stove is running, and because the fuel burns so efficiently, the stove also uses far less fuel than a conventional fire. To contain the extreme heat, high-tech materials are used.

The stove can use wood, dung or other biomass. The stove uses “forced ventilation” and needs a battery, but the company says on its website that this shouldn’t be a problem: “Most houses have access to some electricity. The rechargeable battery can be charged at a cost of a few cents.”

The stove is priced at $ 55, which makes it affordable for the African ‘middle class’ who can spend between $4 and $ 20 per day, but it’s still too expensive for the extremely poor. Walker is currently looking at financing models based on CO2 emission rights.

The stoves will be made in a plant in Lesotho, that currently employs about 45 people. Currently, it produces about 100 stoves per day. The goal is to increase production to about 100 000 a year.

Source: FD, ACE, photos: ACE

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Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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