Would any manufactured stove that you know of work well for this woman? Maybe not?

Working with local women to design cooking solutions is not hard when the team is located in the project area. It’s only natural to include the user in developing the product. But when wood stoves are created by foreigners, that invaluable input easily goes missing and the stove, although technically fine, usually misses other necessary attributes. That’s why ARC tries to develop stoves in the field, while learning how fire works in the lab.

Researchers associated with the Regional Testing and Knowledge Center in Accra, Ghana might agree with this strategy. They recently published a paper in which 20 biomass cook stoves available in Ghana were evaluated for high-power thermal efficiency, low power specific consumption rate, turn down ratio, high power CO emissions, high power PM2.5 emissions, low power CO emissions, low power PM2.5 emissions, affordability, fuel saving potential, operations and maintenance cost, time saving, indoor CO, and indoor PM2.5 emissions.

The authors concluded that none of the cook stoves satisfied the conditions of all of the performance indicators. The forced draft stoves were generally high performing on the technical and environmental attributes, but low performing on the economic and social/public health metrics like affordability, maintenance and operation costs, and fuel saving potential. The more traditional stoves did not perform very well technically and environmentally but ranked highest economically, being more affordable than the cleaner burning alternatives like forced draft stoves.

Available natural draft stoves were a better alternative considering the economic, technical, and environmental attributes.  The high cost of forced draft stoves (most are imported), their operation and maintenance cost, and the requirement of electricity resulted in adoption rates being low. The suitability to prepare Ghanaian staples, which require rigorous stirring, were also generally underestimated. Locally made natural draft stoves did not score well in terms of emissions but were much less expensive, did not require the preparation of fuel, and were made to prepare Ghanaian staple foods. 

The study highlights the need to consider all the performance criteria simultaneously in order to choose the “best performing” stove. 
The authors conclude with the hope that locally made stoves can be technically improved while maintaining the other necessary attributes. (Gloria Boafo-Mensah, et al., Biomass and Bioenergy 150, 2021).

It just so happens that our General Manager Sam Bentson is at the Regional Testing and Knowledge Center in Accra right now, working with Ms. Boafo-Mensah and the rest of the team on some exciting projects. We look forward to sharing Sam’s report about his trip when he returns!

Paul Anderson TCHAR stove

In 2011, Dr. Paul Anderson described how the made charcoal in a TLUD could drop into a charcoal stove base and then be used to cook food. The top of the TLUD stove was removed after the charcoal was made and the pot was placed on the lower base to continue cooking. ARC used the same idea in a TLUD stove that was tested by Jim Jetter, but the wood burning and subsequent charcoal burning happened in the same combustion chamber. The TLUD was shorter, so the lower firepower in the charcoal supplied enough energy to a covered pot with a tight skirt to keep simmering. The ARC TCHAR stove was clean burning and scored well in a series of tests. (Jetter, et al., 2012, Environmental Science & Technology 46(19):10827-34).

Dr. Anderson’s 2011 TCHAR stove. The top (silver) portion is removed after the fuel has become charcoal, and the pot is placed directly on the base for simmering.

Using the made charcoal to simmer food to completion increases thermal efficiency. In cities where biochar may be less desirable, a known amount of fuel can bring the food to boil (burning the wood) and then gently simmer the food until it’s done (burning the made charcoal) without much tending. To preserve the biochar for agricultural use the primary air that goes up into the batch of fuel is limited and the fire is extinguished. In a TCHAR more primary air helps to decrease the smoke made during the transition from wood to charcoal burning and helps the charcoal to completely combust.

The Turn Down Ratio in a 2021 ARC TCHAR is about 5 to 1, so the pot needs a lid and a tight skirt to keep boiling. Using 700 grams of biomass pellets the stove boiled five liters of water in 27 minutes and kept boiling for two hours (covered pot/tight skirt). The TCHAR is another TLUD variation and, who knows, may be useful somewhere?

Burning wood and then made charcoal results in a large turn down ratio.
Selling LPG in Rwanda

LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is among the most important fuels for achieving clean cooking. Many countries are actively developing intervention programs. In a five year project starting in 2007, an Indonesian program converted over 50 million households cooking with kerosene to LPG. In 2016, India intensified their campaign providing free connections to LPG cylinders to “Below Poverty Line” homes. In China, gas and biomass fuels, the dominant energy fuels for cooking, are used by 44.8% and 32.1% of households, respectively. In 2014, 47.6% of rural cooks used biomass, whereas urban households were more likely to cook with gas (65.8%) (Applied Energy 2014, 136:692-703 Duan, et al.).

Even older LPG stoves burn cleanly. Five different LPG stoves were tested 89 times and described in a 2018 article. Two stoves were manufactured in China and obtained in a local market near Beijing. One was manufactured in Japan and purchased in Kampala, Uganda. Solgas Repsol Downstream Peru (an international LPG distributor) disseminated another stove. A worn-out appliance was obtained from a rural household in Cameroon  (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2018, 52, 904−915 Guofeng Shen, et al.).

  • The average thermal efficiency for the LPG cook stoves was 51 ± 6%.
  • Approximately 90% of the PM2.5 data was below the level of detection.
  • The other 10% of the stoves had an average PM2.5 score of 0.20 ± 0.16 mg/minute. (The WHO Emission Rate target is 0.23mg/minute).

However, in a country like Rwanda the switch from wood and charcoal to LPG is slow. In 2019, only 2% of cooks were using LPG in the cities. 64% used a charcoal or wood stove and in rural areas “the use of clean fuels is negligible” (The World Bank, 2019). 93% of rural households use wood, 6% of charcoal, and 0.2% of gas (National Institute of Statistics Rwanda, 2019).

The cost of LPG is a big factor. “Prices are much higher in rural areas and upcountry towns as retail traders factor in transport logistics. Rising prices for cooking gas in the country have sparked concerns of likely reversing gains made in the push for a clean cooking solution as more households turn to wood and charcoal.”  

Marie-Jeanne Uwanyiringira, a businesswoman who sells LPG, says that the fluctuation in prices has caused frustration among consumers. “When someone buys gas from me at RWF 3,500 and the next month I tell them that it is RWF 5,500, ($5 USD) they don’t seem to understand that it is not the seller’s fault.” (Rwanda Today, April 9, 2021).

In addition to the recent Tibbetts Award, ASAT has just received EPA recognition for our success. ASAT (the for-profit arm of ARC) was awarded a 2021 EPA Administrator’s Small Business Program Award for Outstanding Accomplishments by a Small Business Contractor. This award recognizes ASAT’s contributions in Fiscal Year 2020 and our efforts to promote EPA priorities of protecting human health and the environment.

ASAT Inc. staff pose with their Tibbetts Award. From left to right: Sam Bentson, David Evitt, Jill Allen, Dean Still, Kim Still, and Dr. Nordica MacCarty.

EPA SBIR funding enabled ASAT to research and develop commercially viable inventions. We developed the Integrated Stove (seen below) that includes stand-alone accessories including the Jet-Flame www.Jet-Flame.com, an air cooled thermoelectric generator, and an electrostatic precipitator that reduces emissions of smoke from chimneys.

The Integrated Stove with Air Cooled 20 Watt TEG Prototype.

WASHINGTON, DC, April 22, 2021 — At the Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by President Biden, the U.S. government pledged to help countries achieve their climate ambitions through expanding access to clean cooking.

“Providing clean energy to households is critical to achieving global climate and sustainable development goals,” said Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat. “Smoke from fireplaces, cook stoves, and lighting is responsible for more than half of human-made black carbon emissions and millions of premature deaths from household air pollution. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition partners welcome the U.S. government’s re-engagement in the issue and look forward to cooperating to put in place solutions that improve lives and protect the planet.” 

The United Nations Foundation’s Clean Cooking Alliance

Would it be helpful to add climate metrics to the health-based ISO 19867? Currently, Scoring Tier 5 for emissions of PM2.5 and CO means that safety is assured in average households. As the score decreases from Tier 5 to Tier 0 the estimated amounts of ill health from breathing smoke and gas increase.

During ISO 19867 testing under an emissions hood, the fuel use, thermal efficiency and emissions of CO2, CO, and PM2.5 are measured and the data is used to determine a ranking on the voluntary tiers of performance. ARC multiplies lab data by a factor of three to estimate in field emissions. Usually in cook stoves, the CO2 has by far the largest effect on climate change. However, PM (black to white in color), CO, methane (CH4), non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), and nitrous oxide (N2O) also have varying amounts of climate forcing potentials. Currently, CO2, PM2.5, and CO are measured as a part of ISO 19867. ARC also determines the amount of black carbon in every test (using a filter) of PM2.5. Adding methane and non-methane hydrocarbons to the measured gases is not difficult. In fact, Sam is working on adding them to the LEMS right now.

The effects of inhaling particulate matter have been widely studied in humans and animals. They include asthma, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Particles can also have an extremely strong effect on the atmosphere by absorbing and/or scattering the sun’s incoming radiation, depending on their color. The black particles have an approximate warming potential by weight of 680 times that of CO2 (Roden and Bond, 2006; Bond and Sun, 2005).

Total global warming impact, grams CO2 equivalent on a 100-year time-frame, per liter of water boiled and simmered for 30 minutes, normalized for starting temperature and fuel moisture content. Inclusive of CO2 and all PICs.

When we studied the global warming impact of five cook stoves burning biomass, CO2 was shown to be the major component, as seen above. At the time (2008), estimates of the various warming potentials were:

CO2….1  (IPCC, 2007)
CO….1.9  (IPCC, 2007)
CH4….25  (IPCC, 2007)
NMHC….12  (Edwards and Smith, 2002)
N2O….298  (IPCC, 2007)
PM – Black….680  (Roden and Bond, 2006; Bond and Sun, 2005)
PM – White….-50 (Estimate – Bond, 2007)

Warming potential, 100-year, CO2 equivalents

  • When biomass is harvested sustainably, the CO2 emissions from biomass-burning are considered to be greenhouse-neutral.
  • Although N2O is a strong climate-forcing constituent, emissions from the wood- and charcoal-burning stoves were very low, contributing less than 1% to the overall warming potentials.
  • The data suggests that there are biomass stoves that can be designed to (1) reduce the fuel used to cook, (2) reduce health-damaging emissions and (3) address climate change. The considerable differences in climate-changing emissions from the stoves in this study should be noted. Large-scale use of cleaner burning stoves might well reduce global warming effects, especially when the biomass is harvested in a “carbon neutral” manner. (N. MacCarty, D. Ogle, D. Still, T. Bond, C. Roden, Energy for Sustainable Development, 2008)

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

When I went to UC Berkeley, studying psychology as an undergrad, lots of people made fun of Freud, Jung, and Adler who wrote (a lot) about divergent theories of what makes people tick. UCB liked to think of itself as a scientific institution, and facts are proven by statistical validity. Why should we believe speculation from the dear departed? I eventually agreed and I was intrigued by the big question: How do we know the truth?

The paradigm that captured my thinking was the BLACK BOX. In black box theory facts are like an elephant in a box. Scientists poke sticks into small holes in the box and one stick hits a toenail. A scientist exclaims, “Why, what is in the box is hard and slippery!” Other sticks hit the softer belly or the trunk, resulting in very different observations. Hopefully, after many experiments an accurate description of the elephant can emerge. (Although, what the elephant is thinking may well remain private.)

I was really excited by statistics!

If you’re trying to know the effectiveness of something, calculating the statistical significance can help. It gives you a measured amount of confidence in the hypothetical conclusion. At UCB we did experiments and 95% confidence was the minimum that students had to achieve to get an “A.” To achieve 95%, the sample size and the size of the effect had to be big enough.

Here’s the application to stoves

When we try to use found wood sticks from the forest in our experiments, one stick, for example, has two inches of bark on it. Another stick has three inches of bark and the two sticks make very different amounts of smoke. So, the variable of using sticks that emit different amounts of smoke makes it more difficult to know the truth: Did changing the air/fuel ratio, for example, result in the stove making less smoke? Using wood with no bark, we can achieve confidence in five to seven tests. We have to do a lot more tests when the fuel has added variables.

When trying to understand heat transfer or combustion efficiency in the lab (not what happens in the field) limiting variables has a great appeal to lazy researchers like me at ARC. So, we do not design stoves in the lab!

We realized quite a long time ago that we could only investigate heat transfer and combustion efficiency in the lab, and then with great relief go to an amazing place, work with wonderful people in a new culture, eat incredible meals, etc. in order to help a local team evolve a stove using found everything (and testing/statistics).

CQC stove with swinging door
CQC stove with swinging door
A door was added to the CQC stove to block some of the air entering the combustion chamber.

Last week we shared some thoughts about the importance of gathering detailed data and making direct observations when testing stoves. Here’s a question we recently considered.

Did a partial cover over the sticks entering the combustion chamber help reduce emissions in the CQC stove with Jet-Flame?

No, not in this preliminary test series, although lots of interesting things happened! Placing a swinging door over the fuel opening into the combustion chamber has often occurred to Rocket stove designers and it appears now and then in stoves. Dr. Winiarski liked the swinging door.  The thought is to get the excess air down by reducing the amount of air coming into the combustion chamber through the door. With sufficient but less excess air, the temperatures needed for cleaner combustion should rise.

Excess air did go down when a metal cover was near to touching the tops of the sticks in our experiments. It fell from an average of 2.91 times stoichiometric to 2.54. The average temperature in the combustion chamber did rise as a result, from 557°C to 596°C. The partial cover was doing its job. Firepower went up (4359 watts up from 4012 watts) and that might have helped with heat transfer efficiency. However, in this particular case, the thermal efficiency was unchanged (36% covered and 37% uncovered).

The positive changes in excess air and temperature also did not affect the emissions. PM2.5 (56mg/MJ-d covered and 55mg/MJ-d uncovered) and CO (2.63g/MJ-d covered and 2.72 g/MJ-d uncovered) were not changed enough to show a difference. Of course, using a Jet-Flame that is introducing lots of changes into the combustion chamber, including more excess air, probably makes this an unusual set of circumstances.

The swinging door may be great in a natural draft Rocket stove and as usual, Dr. Winiarski was right. It didn’t seem to be needed in this scenario. That’s OK with me, because the cover obscured the visual clues that help to tend a fire, and make tending more fun. I felt like I was flying a plane through the fog and was glad to land.

Kirk Harris tests his newest TLUD design under the Laboratory Emissions Monitoring System (LEMS) hood.

Having an emissions hood allows ARC to make more detailed observations. We try to do one ISO 19867 test every day, establishing an in-house culture of data driven inquiry. Now, having a hood isn’t necessary for creating amazing stoves. Larry Winiarski, Tom Reed, Paul Anderson, Kirk Harris, and many other people have spent happy hours tweaking prototypes that then worked better and better. But when you get to the point where it’s hard to see the smoke, visual inspection doesn’t work as well. In the modern world, health requirements are violated by fairly invisible amounts of PM2.5. Of course, the same thing goes for CO which is odorless and invisible.

That’s why we offer free access to serious stove developers. Kirk Harris recently visited the lab to tune up his latest TLUD. We have a nice, warm cabin for him and daily access to one of our two emissions hoods. The cafeteria is open and Kirk brings food to prepare. If we are lucky, we hear him playing his flute. Dale Andreatta makes an almost annual visit and then likely climbs some mountain and goes somewhere to watch trains.

Steps of scientific inquiry

  • Complete background research into the topic
  • Observe the natural process
  • Make a hypothesis based on the observations and test it

We’ve recently added 4 oxygen sensors and 4 temperature probes to the data generated every second for greater depth of detail. Detailed observations help to see if one set of information had an effect on another.  For example, when temperatures rose at 3” up from the floor of the combustion chamber did CO or PM2.5 change at the same time? Was a significant effect on CO or PM2.5 seen above a certain temperature? What happened with the temperature probe data taken at 4” up from the floor? And more and more. The process of learning is data driven which makes a black box theorist happy.

In so many ways, the detailed observation of what is happening in a biomass stove is in its infancy. Establishing a culture of daily data generation at our lab (3 hours) is getting us closer to having “observed the natural process.” And, it’s Christmas fairly frequently when a statistically significant relationship is observed.

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.