The little stove that could. Went from camping or recreational use to a wider social impact – fully combust the bio mass – so hyper efficient generation of energy.. Fan ensures that there is maximum combustion and minimisation of smoke.
One fuel: two types of energy, generating maximum heat and stored.
Demonstrates how consumer solutions in the first world can have a wider reach – by exploring the scope of a product; solution now used in a variety of contexts.
The HomeStove is a forced draft biomass cookstove that converts waste heat from the fire into electricity to power an internal fan that reduces toxic indoor smoke by up to 95%, eliminate up to 1.5 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per stove annually, and provide users with the capability to charge mobile phones and LED lights. The HomeStove generates direct economic benefits through fuel savings and electricity generation. It is designed primarily for users in developing countries who currently cook on smoky open fires, which cause nearly 4 million premature deaths each year and contribute to climate change.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Our hypothesis is that the majority of our users will come from three market segments:
(1) Peri-urban and rural, wood-burning households with intermittent electricity access and household income above $4-8 per day
(2) Completely off-grid communities, which use wood for cooking and have high mobile phone usage.
(3) Commercial establishments, such as restaurants and tea stands, that purchase fuelwood for cooking.
More than 3 billion people cook on wood and other solid fuels. The toxic smoke that results from these indoor cooking fires kills nearly 4 MM people every year, most of which are women and children. Although less costly than petroleum alternatives, solid fuel is not free. Families spend 2-4 hours per day collecting firewood and, in areas where wood must be purchased, it can account for 10-15% of their income.
Moreover, in much of the developing world the wife typically does the cooking and disproportionately suffers the health effects, but the husband controls the purchasing decisions. The HomeStove’s unique charging capability is hypothesized to overcome this discord between husbands’ and wives’ preferences. The stove produces enough power to fully charge both a cell phone and an evening’s worth of LED light. It provides immediate value to both female users, the predominant cooks in the household, and male purchasers, augmenting long-term returns from fuel savings and improved health. We seek to promote long term adoption of a clean cookstove that provides both immediate energy and health benefits without greatly changing daily behavior.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Scientists at our core, BioLite designs from first principles: we strip away all pre-conceived notions and try to focus on the raw problem. What is happening? Why isn't it changing? What are the current solutions? How can we build a new solution from scratch? Our point of view addressed three key angles towards approaching the project:
Technology - What is the tangible solution here? Do we have a physical concept that will address the needs of this community? How does it work? Is it an intuitive user experience?
Demand - We can't just assume that because it is good people will want it. We have to generate desire. How do we create interest and understanding for this product? How do we incorporate the values and desires of the local community into messaging and outreach?
Access- How do we create sustainable channels to finance sales of these stoves? We believe a market-based solution will create long term poverty alleviation, so donation is not a model we are seeking. As a result, how do we make it responsible financing opportunities an attractive option for families seeking to invest in our technology?4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The HomeStove has gone through various prototypes (we are currently in our 4th generation prototype) and was shaped by collaborative research done with Aprovecho Research Center and Professor Kirk Smith from UC Berkeley who is the pioneer of the clean cookstove movement. All of our models are rigorously tested in our lab in Brooklyn as well as out in the field to understand a variety of factors: heat-flow, usability, burn time, charging capabilities, cooking capabilities, emissions, etc. The final materials used (Stainless steel, plastic, cast iron) are the result of hundreds of hours of testing and iterative prototyping. CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) Analysis was conducted using software systems that allowed us to model the flow of air from our internal fan as well as heat and gas gusts into the body of the stove.
Given that the clean cookstove movement existed well before BioLite, we required due diligence in understanding the landscape: who were the fellow players, what their designs promised, and why or why not their initiatives were working. For us, this research led to the critical insight that charitable and subsidy based solutions were not yielding the impact we wanted to see. This challenged us to design a commercial-based solution and build the HomeStove out as a long-term business opportunity for BioLite while utilizing our near-term CampStove market as a way to generate revenue that essentially allowed us to become our own investors in the HomeStove vision. It also highlighted the importance for locally developed distribution networks which positively impacts local business opportunities (such as women entrepreneur collectives) for target communities - this has become a project that is designed WITH communities, not just FOR them.
Over the past two years, BioLite has established proof of concept for the HomeStove through small pilots in Guatemala, Ghana and India, where it tested user acceptability, product reliability, performance, and willingness-to-pay. BioLite has integrated feedback from the pilots to ensure the HomeStove is a field-verified consumer product. For example, several customers in Ghana indicated they preferred the open fire for cooking yams or using large pots. In response, we’ve enlarged the cooking surface and made the stove even sturdier so that users can vigorously stir large pots of stew without any risk of the stove toppling. Our pilots in 5 states of India (Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Haryana) confirmed the strong value users place on the HomeStove’s mobile charging and LED lighting capability, and users perceived the HomeStove substantially cleaner compared to the traditional wood stove and the rocket stove. All of our markets reinforce the need for our HomeStove to satisfy a variety of cooking cultures and needs and our latest model reflects these inputs.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The HomeStove, through its unique technology and business model, aims to revolutionize the clean cookstove movement and create mass adoption that yields several benefits:
- Bringing affordable on-demand electricity to off-grid communities: Families no longer have to walk miles to a nearby village to charge a cell phone or spend a disproportionate amount of their income on powering their mobile device to keep their local business running. Children can do homework at night thanks to a lit LED light.
- Creating long-term health benefits: Especially with women and children, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases related to indoor smoke can be drastically reduced with the use of the HomeStove.
- Create local economic opportunities: By building local distribution channels with local partners, especially with a focus on local women's groups, we are creating chances for the HomeStove to augment the local market, not compete with it. Furthermore by reducing wood consumption by 50%, hours spent gathering solid fuels are reduced, giving valuable time back to women who can use that to pursue small business or education.
- Fight Climate Change: the annual emissions from open fires are more than all the trucks and cars in the world. The HomeStove dramatically reduces Black Carbon, a major contributor to climate change. So not only are we improving the health of the users, we are improving the long term health of the planet.
As mentioned in the Process section, ethnographic research and pilot-testing are at the core of our work. We are all too familiar with previous cookstove initiatives that had the best of intentions but failed to understand the nuanced needs of their user. We have conducted in-home research in Guatemala, Ghana, Uganda, and India and have met with hundreds of families and thousands of community members to understand what they like, what they don't like, and what they want from us in the future. We also make a point of it to connect with local leaders who often have the most accurate understanding of the pulse of their community.
For example, speaking about long-term health benefits? After rounds of research, we have found it is not so important to the family (it's simply not on their mind). For us, this means that communicating benefits around charging, less wood consumed, and a cleaner home are the primary messages for marketing while health is an implicit benefit that we as a company hope to achieve through successful adoption.
We also make sure that THEIR values are reflected in our product development process: ie making a cooktop that can prepare flatbread in India and cook yams in Ghana. The kitchen is an important part of the home and requires deep respect and understanding on our part.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
In the long-term, the HomeStove is designed to be a low-cost biomass cookstove that families can afford, and ideally, make back in savings within a matter of months. With over 3 billion people cooking over smoky open fires, this is designed to be a high-volume enterprise with a vast network of local distribution partnerships.
Operationally, thanks to BioLite's model of parallel innovation, R&D will be informed by insights both from the CampStove and HomeStove market, creating a rich base of knowledge that allows us to improve upon both products over time.
By carefully selecting and building our partnerships in our targeted geographies, we will be able to monitor long term adoption, usage, and sales and get honest feedback on potential barriers or pitfalls during large scale expansion.
Lastly there is a potential long-term economic opportunity to sustain the business if Black Carbon is introduced as a viable unit within the carbon-trading market - we plan on monitoring the progress of this closely in the coming year.