20081227-the-goals7The Acumen Fund blog this week posted a call for solutions to the energy challenges posed by wood-burning stoves responsible for much of the black carbon causing 18 percent of global warming, according to the New York Times. Much of the third world uses wood as fuel because it is widely available and free, but the stoves they use to burn the wood are inefficient and produce large amounts of smoke and soot, causing major health and pollution problems.

Acumen Fund’s main criticisms of alternative stoves like rocket stoves and solar cookers are as follows:

There are lots of stove technologies…out there that can do the job better and use cleaner fuels, but the capital costs are higher and the distribution models are complex. Incentives from the carbon markets…have not provided enough benefit to drive the adoption of clean cooking products…getting certified through the Kyoto Protocol is a long and complicated process, a real barrier for start-ups interested in attacking the stove problem.

20090501_great-darfur-smoke-outCould the Berkeley Darfur Stove be a solution?

  • They certainly are not the cheapest solution, placing the stove at $20 on a stove comparison chart that cites their main competition – stoves made of three stones or mud/dung over burning wood – as $1, and the only two more expensive – solar cookers and the Saves 80 Stove – as $20-57. They claim that the cost is offset by a savings of $240/year due to a 75 percent reduction in wood consumption with this stove.
  • The stove design is indeed well-thought out, citing a wind collar to protect against Darfur’s windy environment, a variety of cooking surfaces for various types of Darfuri cuisine, and a small firebox opening to discourage over-feeding the fire with excess wood.
  • But they may have the edge when it comes to distribution model. By manufacturing the parts in India then flat-packing them for shipping to Sudan for assembly (a la Ikea), the Darfur Stoves project has been able to increase production seven-fold, to 100 stoves per day.

Case study for marketing and driving adoption of your developing world design: Developing world designers must remember what is most vitally important to their target market. When considering a technology that promises to solve MDG #7 – environmental sustainability, marketers must remember that the third world is concerned with this generation’s life, not the next two or three. That means global warming, sustainable design, and climate crisis are not motivators for them to adopt alternative technology.

We first heard of the Darfur Stoves Project from Michael Helms’ article in Stanford d.school’s Ambidextrous Magazine. Rather than position it as an environmentally conscious choice, people talk about the Darfur Stove because it saves women from having to walk hours away from the safety of their camps in search of wood, in a region of Sudan where rape and murder are common threats to these refugee women. This even spurred 17-year-old Spencer Brodsky from Maryland to raise money to donate stoves to the women, drawing celebratory news coverage from CNN and currently achieving over $125,000 for 4,000 stoves (for $30 a stove? we thought it was $20?).

The Darfur Stove Project’s focus on the immediate life-or-death impact of choosing an alternative technology is not alone. Our coverage of Amy Smith’s TED talk on charcoal, one of CbD’s most popular posts, also notes that she met with more success when changing her story from “deforestation” to “saving childrens’ lives”.

6 thoughts on “The Great Darfur Smokeout

  1. @Tony, thanks for your careful fact-checking. A second look at the New York Times article I linked as my source shows that 18 percent of GW is from black carbon, which is mostly produced by wood-burning stoves but also by diesel engines and coal plants. However, replacing wood-burning stoves is a rapid way to reduce black carbon, whereas shutting down a coal plant can take years.

    I’ve edited the post to reflect this nuance and make sure it cites all black carbon, not just woodburning stoves, as 18% of the cause.

  2. It’s great to see an increase in cost effectiveness and efficiency. However, I’d warn that often local systems are that way for a reason. In many regions where mosquitos are in excess, cooking with smoke helps to alleviate the problems caused by that small pest. I’m very curious to watch how this project develops. Hopefully with success. Thanks for the post!

  3. We have Americans living in villages in the bush of Alaska that are hauling their own water in buckets, on foot too. Where can we find these types of products for them to purchase and use?

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