Students Seek Safe, Clean Stove For Haiti

New technology, apparently, doesn’t always win out against the old stuff, at least not in the real world. That’s the preliminary finding from UC Berkeley students who are testing the efficiency and viability of traditional Haitian stoves against new, commercially available models.

The students have teamed up with scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to conduct the tests, hoping to find a stove that is both safe and fuel-efficient, or to create a design for a new stove that would be popular with Haitian cooks. They are also looking to subsidize the stove’s manufacture with the help of nonprofit organizations to provide safe and clean technology for the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed about 316,000 people and left over 1 million people homeless.

Haiti stove tests

image via Berkeley Lab/Kayje Booker

A traditional stove in Haiti is fueled by charcoal, and is made out of perforated sheet metal. At the Berkeley Lab, a stove like this was compared to four alternative, commercial stoves made from metal or metal combined with ceramic. Undergraduates from UC Berkeley performed the combustion efficiency tests, such as comparing the stove’s performances in boiling water and cooking a meal of rice and beans. The early tests proved inconclusive, though findings showed that the more modern stoves outperformed the older models, but were not without their faults. Newer stoves proved to have more thermal efficiency, using less charcoal to produce more heat; one test series showed that the traditional stove used 978 grams of charcoal on average, while newer models used about 479-591 grams.

Haiti stove tests

image via Berkeley Lab/Roy Kaltschmidt

However, the traditional stove was proven to boil water in 36 minutes, faster than the newer models, which brought water to a boil in 51 minutes to an hour. Anecdotal evidence gathered by the research team suggests that Haitian consumers prefer a stove with a shorter boiling time. Newer models which are more efficient on paper also feature some design flaws, like ventilation openings that can become clogged during the cooking process.  As of now, it seems that while it might use more fuel, the traditional Haitian stove might be the more realistic option. Team member and UC Berkeley doctoral student in ecosystems research Kayje Booker said that the traditional stove “has the benefit of simplicity.”

Still, Ashok Gadgil, the leader of the Haiti Stove Project and director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at the Berkeley Lab, says that a more efficient stove could save Haitian people and aid organizations money, while also reducing the pressure on Haiti’s forests, which are harvested for fuel. Stove users in Haiti, who are mostly women, are also at risk from carbon-monoxide and smoke emissions.

The complete report on the results of the water-boiling tests is posted online, with a second report on the food tests expected to be posted later this fall.

Laura Caseley is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a resident of New York State’s Hudson Valley. She writes for several publications and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found painting in her makeshift studio or enjoying the scenery of her hometown.

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