“Today, toxic coal smoke from cooking causes more deaths than malaria and it takes six tons of wood to produce one ton of charcoal,” says Per Löfberg, Marketing Manager for the Swedish-Zambian company Emerging Cooking Solutions.
“We have developed a system of pellet-fired stoves that help to save forests, reduce the time of cooking, and enhance health and household economies. We want to see an end to deforestation in Africa and are looking to developing countries such as Zambia,” continues Löfberg.
“This is not about traditional stoves that you see in modern Western homes but stoves fired with wood pellets. Primarily, we focus on low-and middle-class people living in cities and who can buy the stove by deduction from the salary from their employer. We also supply larger stoves to restaurants that use charcoal or LPG gas. For poor families, the stoves are funded with the help of donations and sponsorship, and we are working hard to get access to real cheap stoves with high quality. The price of wood pellets is very competitive compared to charcoal.”
Cooking affects health and the environment
Worldwide, it is estimated that three billion people cook in an open fireplace with wood or charcoal as a fuel. This produces soot and toxic carbon monoxide and it is estimated that four million people a year die prematurely of air pollution. The demand for firewood and charcoal is already large and growing, which means that the extraction of raw materials may be greater than the growth of trees with deforestation as a result. The demand also drives up prices and many families have to put a significant portion of their income on fuel for cooking. The alternative is to hunt for fuel, which can be very time consuming. The particles scattered from the primitive cooking also contributes to climate change.
According to a World Bank report (Modern Cooking Solutions: The Way Forward), there are hundreds of stoves on the market for use in developing countries. Many countries have introduced programs and financial assistance to increase the use of safer and more efficient stoves. NGOs, international organizations and individuals have also pledged to improve conditions for cooking in developing countries. The World Bank notes that the stove ‘s function, durability and reliability varies greatly and that many programs therefore have failed. The stoves may have worked well for a time but have since rapidly broken down, lost performance and been discarded.
In the report, the World Bank notes that there are also good examples from China and India, where it has been possible to increase stove performance from an environmental and health perspective. The need for improved cooking in the world is still very high. And the need for better stoves and fuels, more stringent testing methods, development of standards, and better models of how the stoves are funded is also needed.
A sustainable business model
“In Zambia, we estimate the market for charcoal to $100 million and in addition to the negative impacts on human health and the over-exploitation of forest resources, there is very little of this that yields tax revenues. We want to help break this pattern. There are some things that make our business model and solution attractive both for us and for the community,” says Löfberg.
“It was my colleague Mattias Ohlson and I who hatched the idea of turning waste biomass into pellets in combination with wood gas stoves. In a traditional stove fired with wood or charcoal, the flame is just above the surface of the fuel. In our system, the flue gas that burns provides fire with a battery-powered fan, which blows air from below, so the burning is actually moved away from the fuel.”
The fan is battery operated and can handle a couple of weeks of operation before it needs recharging. We utilize forest residues, sawdust, peanut shells and other by-products to convert into wood pellets. In Sweden, we have long experience in producing pellets and these skills we are now transferring to Africa.”
Emerging Cooking Solutions does not manufacture stoves but uses products available in the market. The cookers come from Philips (see picture). The company does however manufacture wood pellets branded SupaMoto in Kitwe, Zambia. Further, Emerging Cooking Solutions makes sure there is an infrastructure for the distribution of pellets and that the price level is attractive to users.
“We take advantage of biofuels that are not used, we also help to reduce deforestation and to minimize the health risks of cooking over an open fire. By choosing stove and fuel based on the user’s needs and ability to pay – combined with the effective use of biofuel – we argue that we are working on an ecologically sustainable business model. There is also an important aspect related to the emancipation of women. Easier and faster cooking saves time for the women and creates opportuniies for other activities. Something that is also very much appreciated is that one does not become dirty when cooking, “concludes Löfberg.
This article was published in January 2014