In December 2011, the Stockholm Environmental Institute released a report showing that replacing traditional biomass cookstoves in Africa, Asia and the Pacific would have the greatest impact on the black carbon emissions which, thanks to their particulate nature, were responsible for 1.5 million deaths from child pneumonia and adult lung disease. In fact, these primitive cooking devices create indoor air pollution that scientists equate with a child smoking three to five cigarettes per day.
The issue is energy poverty. Worldwide, 2.7 billion people without electricity – due to inadequate infrastructure or a lack of money – rely on traditional biomass cookstoves to make food. The International Energy Agency does not see this energy profile changing by 2030, but the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) does, and to make that ambition a reality is putting up $2.5 million to support research into using renewable energy technologies to create the next generation of clean, efficient and affordable biomass cookstoves – ones that either match or surpass the best stoves currently on the market in terms of efficiency, emissions (both indoors and out), and safety. A final but very important caveat also notes that inventions must meet the needs of people in the regions where the stoves will be deployed.
The DOE announcement didn’t specify how much funding it was offering for the program, but Biomass Power & Thermal reported the department would would make “$2.5 million in funding available this year for applied research to advance clean biomass cookstove technologies for use in developing countries.”
The subject of cookstoves in developing nations has gotten a lot of attention the last few years. We reported on it in 2010, when the X Prize Foundation – a nonprofit vested in technological development for humanitarian reasons – took up the cause in India, teaming with that nation’s government and the Indian Institute of Technology to launch the National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative, which was expected to finally spark some real innovation.
In 2011, tech giant IBM joined international charity Practical Action to form Energy Aid, an organization dedicated to bringing sustainable power to the 2.7 without any form of power, let alone sustainable. Hopefully, the DOE can add to the effort and achieve its stated goal of making “user-desirable” stoves that provide significant health, financial and forestry benefits. Deadline for applying to the DOE program is May 23.