Read more about the Chitetezo Mbaula project at unsustainablemagazine.com. Photo by Deogracias Benjamin Kalima

The Chitetezo Mbaula cookstove is distributed by United Purpose in Malawi with the goal of combating deforestation by replacing the traditional charcoal/firewood cooking stoves. In an effort to assist, ARC worked with stakeholders to see how small changes in the stove might translate into fuel and emissions reductions in lab tests. Of course, this information is only useful to researchers in the field as possible iterations. They determine if the changes might translate into practical conservation. The collaboration continues as possibilities are examined.

In its stock form, the stove achieved an average thermal efficiency of 22.5% during three modified laboratory based IWA 4.2.3 tests at high power. As the stove body got hotter, the thermal efficiency increased from 17.6% to 26.6%. The thermal efficiency Tier rating was 1, and PM2.5 emissions, at 1093.3 mg/MJd, gave a Tier rating of 0.

Simple Adjustments Make Some Performance Improvements

Three one inch in diameter holes were drilled through the back of the clay stove body with the intention of allowing more air into the charcoal bed. The pot gap on top of the stove was also reduced to 6mm. These two changes resulted in an average increase of thermal efficiency with char from 22.5% to 29.6%. 

The CO emissions factor per energy delivered to the cooking pot decreased from 10.45 g/MJd to 5.63 g/MJd, although at the same time the firepower decreased from 8.9 kW to 5.9 kW. Natural draft stoves with lower firepower tend to make less emissions. Since the time to boil (normalized to 75°C temperature rise) also increased from 22.4 minutes to 25.2 minutes, further study is needed to determine if the reduction in CO emissions also occurs at 22.4 min to boil. 

Jet-Flame and Pot Skirt Increase Efficiency, Reduce PM2.5

The Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer Jet-Flame was then inserted into the stove body with a metal Rocket combustion chamber. A 6mm channel gap metal skirt was also used around the 5 liter flat bottomed pot. With these changes, the stove achieved an average thermal efficiency of 47.7% during three laboratory tests at high power. As the stove body got hotter, the thermal efficiency increased from 44.9% to 52.3%. The IWA thermal efficiency Tier rating was 4. Since all of the tests scored within Tier 4, which is the maximum score under the ISO IWA, the 90% confidence interval of the Tier rating was 4 to 4. The PM2.5 emissions of the stove were 69.0 mg/MJd and the Tier rating was 3.

When tested in the field, ARC roughly estimates that emissions will be something like three times higher. This is a “rule of thumb” that is not meant to be an accurate guess but a reminder that many researchers have found that emissions in the field are much higher compared to lab test results! The lab test can point out theoretical “improvements” but only field testing can determine actual performance and practicality. On the other hand, if cooking takes place outdoors, as in the photo above, exposure to harmful smoke can be estimated to be dramatically reduced by the increased air exchange rates.

Last week we wrote about using the LEMS to tune up a stove, so it makes sense to share the actual results of a recent test series with you this week.

When ARC makes an Open Fire, we often use three bricks on end to hold up the pot. The bricks are 16cm high. It has been fascinating to experiment with the SSM Jet-Flame in the open fire to try and determine how fuel-efficient and clean burning the combination can be. Last month, we spent a couple of weeks changing one thing at a time and then completed nine 30-minute ISO high power tests on the close-to-optimized design.

Here are the test results:

test results chart

Description of the changes

  • We kept the pot height at 16cm above the top of the Jet-Flame.
  • Three rebar supports held up the pot replacing the heavier and bulkier bricks.
  • A short 6cm high by 18cm long FeCrAl fence kept the sticks on top of the combustion zone in the Jet-Flame.
  • A lightweight Winiarski 304 stainless steel “0.7 constant cross sectional area” stovetop increased the heat transfer efficiency from the hot flue gases into the pot.
  • Thermal efficiency was also improved with an 11cm high pot skirt creating a 6mm channel gap on the sides of the 26cm in diameter pot.
  • We learned that the sides of the open fire should be partially enclosed for best performance. A 5cm high opening at the lower portion of the sides of the open fire allowed fresh air to enter the combustion zone. 11cm of the upper portion of the sides of the Open Fire were enclosed with aluminum foil.
  • To make sure that there was no backdraft, a 7cm tall, 14cm wide and 7cm deep metal fuel tunnel was added on the outside of the sides of the partially enclosed Open Fire.

Photo of the experiment

Conclusion

It looks like a Rocket combustion chamber may not be needed to achieve Tier 4/5 results from an “Open Fire” when tested in a lab. A short fence that holds a single layer of sticks on top of the primary air jets seems to be as good.

High temperatures in the combustion chamber seem to have both positive and negative effects on emission rates of biomass. Higher temperatures lower the residence time needed for more complete combustion. At the same time, especially with dry wood, the rate of reactions (how much wood gas is being made per unit of time) is increased. If wood gas is made too quickly, some of it can escape unburned. Our experience has been that in a hotter combustion chamber the fuel must be metered into the fire more slowly to lower emissions. In Rocket and TLUD stoves, the rate of reactions must be controlled to eliminate smoke.

Experiments have shown that elevated temperatures shorten the combustion time for CO and PM 2.5. At 900°C the combustion time required for complete combustion is less than half the time needed at 700°C for biomass particles (Li, 2016). At 900°C, a residence period of 0.5 seconds resulted in close to complete combustion of well mixed CO and PM 2.5 (Grieco and Baldi, 2011; Lu et al., 2008; Yang et al., 2008).

Boman (2005) reports that temperatures above 850°C in a 5kW combustion zone combined with air rich and well mixed conditions for 0.5 seconds resulted in an almost complete depletion of particulate matter. The use of insulation in Rocket stoves can create a combustion zone with temperatures above 1,000°C. Forced draft TLUDs can generate similar temperatures in the secondary air mixing zone above the fuel bed.  Interestingly, when temperatures are around 850°C the near complete combustion of well-mixed carbon monoxide and particulate matter seems to require short residence times. Both forced draft Rocket and TLUD stoves can minimize the emissions of products of incomplete combustion even though the residence time is very limited.

Recently, we ran a series of fifteen experiments trying to optimize performance in a low mass Rocket stove with Jet-Flame. Since we were testing with dry wood we had to be careful not to over insulate the combustion chamber. Insulation made the whole length of the stick catch on fire increasing the rate of reactions and firepower.  When more than 8cm of the stick was burning more mixing was needed to achieve close to complete combustion. When only the tips of the sticks were on fire the metering of woodgas into the fire was slower and less mixing was required.

As seen in the following graph, the emissions of CO were again shown to be reduced at higher temperatures. As a rule of thumb when designing a stove, we try to create temperatures above 700°C about 6cm above the fire, at a minimum.

Testing a Chitetezo Stove with a Jet-Flame

What do I like most about Aprovecho Research Center? We have created a “culture of daily experimentation.”

Scheduling two to three experiments every morning means that we can try less-likely-to-succeed variations. That’s great because experiments that don’t succeed in improving a stove often reveal interesting and possibly unexpected results. And that can lead to new insights. “Accident favors the prepared mind,” Pasteur reminds us.

Nordica MacCarty, our new Executive Director, recently suggested that it would be a good idea to see what happens when the Jet-Flame is used without a Rocket combustion chamber. We have been working with Christa Roth and Christoph Messinger from GIZ, investigating what happens when the Jet-Flame is used in the Chitetezo stove. It was easy to continue the investigation into the effects of primary air jets blowing up into the fuel. We removed the rocket-style combustion chamber that we were testing, and put a short metal fence around the Jet-Flame to keep the sticks on top of the air holes. A SuperPot was used and set directly on top of the stove.

It’s been very interesting to try different sized sticks with the Jet-Flame. Generally, small sticks burn faster and make a lot of flame, but also more smoke. Two 4 cm x 4.5 cm sticks burn more slowly and emit less smoke but the firepower is lower. With no insulation around the combustion zone, we tried burning four sticks that were 2 cm x 2.5 cm. The results were surprisingly good: Tier 4 for thermal efficiency, Tier 4 for PM2.5, and Tier 5 for CO.

The size of the sticks made a significant difference on all three measures, which makes sense and has been seen in natural draft stoves. But it’s noteworthy that the size of the sticks results in big differences with the Jet-Flame. Following up on Nordica’s suggestion made for a more interesting week here at the lab. Completing ten to fifteen half-hour experiments weekly makes it more likely that progress is being made.

Reading/learning in front of the computer is important, and OK for a while, but we also like to get into the lab to try and create/learn something new.

The Gates funded Global Health Labs and ARC/SSM invented the Jet-Flame

Global Health Labs, Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer and Aprovecho teams show off the Jet-Flame
Global Health Labs, Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer and Aprovecho teams show off the Jet-Flame

Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer manufactures the Jet-Flame (jet- flame.com) that is being field tested in over 30 locations. Our lab helped to create this accessory that is designed to reduce emissions while increasing thermal efficiency and reducing time to boil. 30 pre-heated primary air jets shoot up into the fire resulting in increased molecular mixing and elevated temperatures. Smoke is reduced by about 90% compared to an open fire.

A forced draft stove can be very clean burning, but start up may create a lot of PM2.5. This is because the cold combustion chamber can allow a higher percentage of the smoke and Carbon Monoxide to escape unburnt. David Evitt, COO of ASAT (the for-profit arm of ARC), invented a method for lighting the Jet-Flame that can be a lot cleaner.

  • Wet 30 grams of left over charcoal with 10 grams of alcohol.
  • Place the small pile of charcoal on top of the holes in the Jet-Flame.
  • Light the charcoal.
  • Turn on the Jet-Flame.
  • Push the tips of the sticks of wood against the pile of burning charcoal.
  • Keep on pushing the sticks into the fire as the tips are consumed.

Here’s a video showing how we light fires in the lab:

Years of experimenting with stoves at ARC taught us that a high mass combustion chamber absorbs a lot of heat that could be going into the cooking pot. That led us to presume that efficient combustion chambers had to be lightweight, which are harder to make. Once we started experimenting with forced draft, we were surprised to learn that adding forced draft (FD) to a TLUD or a Rocket stove increases the temperature of the gases and largely overcomes the negative effect of a high mass combustion chamber.

The Oorja FD-TLUD and the FD-CQC mud brick stoves generate temperatures of around 1,000°C in the combustion chamber. The option to use a high mass combustion chamber lowers cost and dramatically increases durability when designing forced draft, health protecting, affordable, clean burning, carbon neutral stoves.

The combustion chamber in the pellet burning FD-Oorja that we have in the lab is made from castable refractory ceramic and is over 20 years old. The retail price of the 400,000 British Petroleum Oorja stoves sold in India was around $18. The CQC Rocket combustion chamber is less expensive and is manufactured from sand, clay, and cement. With the addition of forced draft via a Jet-Flame, it reaches Tier 4 for  thermal efficiency and PM 2.5.

To replace health protecting stoves that use natural gas (a fossil fuel) it seems likely that FD-TLUDs and FD-Rockets can be built with lower cost and 10 year durability combustion chambers. The renewably-harvested-biomass fueled stoves need to be manufactured and field tested, and there is a lot of ground to be covered (an understatement), but it’s great that harder-to-make low mass combustion chambers may not be necessary.

Champion Forge, circa 1920

The blacksmith’s forge is probably the most familiar technology that blows jets of primary air up into charcoal or coal, resulting in the high temperatures needed to shape or melt metals. A forge needs air at high pressure (10” water column) to do its work. A fan (usually a radial pressure blower) capable of moving air against significant resistance is required. You don’t need a big volume of air. What is needed is pressure to keep the air moving and to create molecular mixing of the woodgas and flame.

The Jet-Flame stove accessory
The Jet-Flame Stove Accessory

The SSM Jet-Flame

The Jet-Flame uses the same technology as a forge. It required a year of R&D to create a low cost, 1.5 Watt fan that delivers sufficient pressure into a Rocket stove fire. Thirty 2mm jets of air at 0.4 to 2 inches of water pressure blow up into the charcoal under the burning sticks of wood. When the pressure rises and the vertical jets of air penetrate further into the charcoal and fire, the following effects are seen:

• Temperatures rise in the combustion chamber, resulting in higher thermal efficiency as hotter gases flow past the pot. The higher temperatures also result in lower PM2.5 and CO. However, proper metering of the fuel, mixing caused by turbulence, and sufficient residence time are as important for decreased emissions of PM2.5 and CO. With higher temperatures, the related measures of firepower and CO2 also rise, while the fuel/air ratio decreases – as the fire increases, more oxygen is consumed. Increasing the pressure also increases firepower even when a constant fuel load (usually two 4cm by 4.5cm sticks) is being burned. Larger sticks have a lower surface area to volume ratio and make less smoke. When the outer surface of the sticks are covered with charcoal, emissions decrease as well.

• In a Rocket stove that has a large fuel opening, natural draft pulls room air into the combustion chamber. With forced draft adding more air, the average Lambda in a Rocket stove tends to stay above two times stoichiometric. The jets of air blowing into the charcoal result in higher temperatures as pressure increases resulting in temperatures over 1,000°C even at 2 to 5 Lambda. Secondary air jets blowing into the fire, on the other hand, have a cooling effect. In a Rocket stove with a Jet-Flame, the varying fuel/air ratios are not related to the emission rates of PM2.5 and CO.

• Higher temperatures caused by greater pressure also have detrimental effects. The percentage of black carbon is higher when temperatures/firepower/CO2 become elevated – hot yellow flames cause the formation of black carbon. The lifespan of affordable refractory metals is greatly decreased by very high temperatures such as 1,000°C. A durable refractory ceramic material is better suited to higher operating temperatures. Replacing metal combustion chambers with low mass, refractory ceramic was recommended by the 2011 DOE biomass stove conference. https://www1.eere.energy.gov/bioenergy/pdfs/cookstove_meeting_summary.pdf

• Lowering the firepower by adjusting the pressure in the air jets assists the metering of fuel to achieve a 3 to 1 turn down ratio. When the pressure is too high, the fire can be blown out when the charcoal has disappeared.  A layer of charcoal under the fire (or charcoal coating the sticks) helps to maintain the fire and lower emissions as charcoal emits much less PM2.5 compared to wood. The levels of CO tend to rise when the flame above the sticks decreases. The amount of flame above the sticks seems to be related to lower emissions of CO and PM2.5. The amount of flame above the burning sticks, the metering of the fuel, and the mixing of the wood gas are not as easily quantified as temperature and residence time but are as important for more complete combustion.

In our newsletter “Making It Real,” we described how feedback from the field in Rwanda suggested that the Jet-Flame’s power cord would last longer if the whole device was inserted from the side of the combustion chamber. (It was originally designed to go through the door, with the sticks placed on top.) So of course we ran some tests, and discovered more benefits.

Is the Jet-Flame, when inserted into the combustion chamber from the side of the CQC stove, as effective in reducing emissions as when it enters through the fuel door?  

Yes, performance seems to have even improved a bit. After testing the Jet-Flame with side entry, it seems that it’s better to get the hot metal out from under the parts of the fuel that you don’t want to heat up. To burn cleanly, natural draft Rockets like to burn something like 8cm of the end of the sticks. Instead of laying the entire length of the sticks on the heated metal of the Jet-Flame, the side entry only exposes a limited amount of the sticks to high temperatures.

As seen in the photo, the sticks are now supported by a white homemade high mass brick and only the tips are exposed to Jet-Flame heat well inside the stove. It’s nice how a suggested change from Jean Marie Kayonga in Rwanda ends up having some unexpected benefit, not just better protecting the cord. Thanks again, Jean Marie! www.Jet-Flame.com

The time to boil, thermal efficiency, temperature in the combustion chamber, CO, and PM were improved with side entry while firepower rose. Excess air fell from 3.38 times stoichiometric to 2.57. I liked operating the stove because the sticks seemed to burn more at their tips as Dr. Winiarski described in the Rocket Design Principles. See: http://bioenergylists.org/stovesdoc/Still/Rocket%20Stove/Principles.html

The high mass CQC stove with Jet-Flame inserted from the side.
The Jet-Flame in the CQC high mass brick Rocket stove

I ask for help when moving the CQC stove. We built it on a piece of plywood and two folks can, with care, move it around the lab but it is heavy. The sand/clay/cement bricks are dense at 1.4 grams per cubic centimeter after being baked many times in the stove. Dr. Winiarski advised that, when possible, Rocket stoves should float in water at less than 1 gram per cubic centimeter.

For a long time, people have added sawdust and other lightweight materials into earthen mixtures to try to lighten up stoves. I ended up at Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer (SSM) in China because for hundreds of years ceramicists had manufactured (and sold in Africa since 1407) durable earthen stoves that weighed around 0.7 grams per cubic centimeter. Their amazing clay floats when dug out of the ground! It is full of diatomaceous earth. The Shens own a 100 year supply of clay in two mines next to the factory.

Why go to all of this trouble to lighten stoves?

The heat from the fire is diverted into the mass of the stove body and less heat is available to cook food. It is harder to start a hot, intense fire in a high mass combustion chamber. In a natural draft stove, this can be disadvantageous. The open fire has other problems but, out of the wind, the hot gases from the flames directly contact the pot and it’s common for open fires to have higher thermal efficiencies compared to high mass stoves, including Rocket stoves. Lightening the bricks helps to address this difficulty. Heat is still diverted into the stove body, but less. Well insulated, mostly metal, Rocket stoves successfully avoid most of these losses.

Indigenous cooks, experts at using fire, often use grasses and twigs to start a hot, fast fire in a high mass stove. You need to pour the BTUs into the stove to quickly prepare food. Speed to cook is almost always the first priority when talking to cooks around the world. When the SSM Jet-Flame is added to the high mass stove, the mini blast furnace immediately starts a hot, over 1,000°C fire that delivers relatively hot gases into the channel gap around the pot created by the pot skirt. (The CQC skirt creates a 5mm channel gap that is 7cm high.) 

The Jet-Flame creates a surprising result

The thermal efficiency in the first CQC/Jet-Flame test (see below) was 33%. The 5 liters of water boiled in 12.5 minutes. After the first 12.5 minutes of heating, the over 1,000°C fire started to heat up the mass and the water boiled more quickly in 10.2 minutes at 38% thermal efficiency. Three more short, but intense, heating phases resulted in the thermal efficiency incrementally rising to 41%, 42%, and 45%. The progressively hotter gases scraping against the sides and bottom of the pot in the small channel gap were more and more successful at transferring heat through the metal walls of the pot into the water.

When thermal efficiencies are in the 40% to 45% range, the performance of the high mass stove is similar to low mass, insulated Rocket stoves. This similarity was completely unexpected at ARC.

Results of five tests of the CQC Stove with Jet-Flame.
A woman sits next to two rocket stoves.
A woman sits next to two rocket stoves.
Firewood is stored between a pair of CQC’s TLC Rocket Stoves.

C-Quest Capital recently announced a collaboration with Macquarie Group Ltd., a financial services company with A$550 billion in assets under management and 16,000 employees in 35 countries. The two firms will fund and deploy efficient cook stoves with pot skirts to one million rural households across Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania. CQC’s preferred rural stoves project standard is two stoves per household to decrease user fallback on three-stone fires.

USAID in-field testing in Africa showed that Rocket stoves with pot skirts reduced smoke emissions by 40% due to the use of less wood while cooking. Addressing health by increasing the air exchange rate in the kitchen and home is a fundamental component of this project. This is done by strategic placement of windows and doors, and promoting half-wall kitchens or well-protected external cooking spaces. A minimum of one visit per year by trained staff to each household to help repair, maintain, and ensure good use of the Rocket stoves is also essential to elevating adoption rates in the targeted areas.

Over the next decade, this investment will deliver over 40 million high quality carbon credits with verified Sustainable Development Contributions to the Voluntary Carbon Market. It is the first leg of a three-pronged program to transform the lives of low-income communities across Sub-Saharan Africa at scale. Ken Newcombe, CEO of CQC, comments, “Our hope is to include something like 100,000 Jet-Flames, assembled by Ener-G-Africa in Lilongwe, Malawi, in the project. Field tests have indicated that the Jet-Flame dramatically reduces PM2.5 emissions and exposure to cooks and their families, further protecting health. If the deployment doesn’t get to 100,000 sold by end of next year it’s not because of the demand – it’s because we couldn’t get the working capital and distribution channels to get the product to the market. Of course, we are exploring all possibilities.”