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Berkeley Lab’s Ashok Gadgil Takes Fuel Efficient Cookstoves to Ethiopia

February 8, 2011 - 1:21pm


 Darfuri woman using a Berkeley-Darfur cookstove | Courtesy of

Darfuri woman using a Berkeley-Darfur cookstove | Courtesy of

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are using technology and innovation to bring clean-burning cookstoves to the developing world.

We spoke with lead scientist Dr. Ashok Gadgil to find out more about the project, a partnership between the Energy Department lab and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Oxfam America and the Clinton Global Initiative. Now with help from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF), Dr. Gadgil is bringing his latest innovation to Ethiopian households.

The new stoves are a modification of the Berkeley–Darfur fuel efficient stove, which reduces the need for firewood up to 50 percent. The original need for a more fuel efficient cookstove came across Dr. Gadgil’s desk in 2004. For millions of displaced Darfuris living in refugee camps, finding enough firewood needed to fuel a traditional “three-stone fire” was a daily struggle. Women must walk up to seven hours, three to five times a week, just to find usable firewood to cook a meal. Outside the camps, the women are vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault. In order to avoid leaving the camp, many women often pay for fuel by selling the very food they hoped to cook.

The reliance on biomass fuels like firewood in developing nations put significant pressure not just on the safety of families, but on the environment as well, increasing both deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

To reduce the amount of firewood the refugees needed, Dr. Gadgil and his team of researchers at the Berkeley Lab modified an existing cookstove design to create one that uses 50 percent less firewood. 15,000 of the Berkeley-Darfur cookstoves are now used to help more than 100,000 people in refugee camps in Sudan. Following the success of the Berkeley-Darfur cookstove, Dr. Gadgil and his team of researchers saw a need for the stoves in Ethiopia, where mass deforestation has also made it difficult for women to gather enough firewood to fuel a traditional three-stone fire.

While the heating method is similar to that of the Sudanese women, Ethiopian food itself is very different and uses different types of cookware. Therefore, Dr. Gadgil and his team of researchers at the Berkeley Lab kept the same basic design of the Berkeley-Darfur cookstove, but modified it with the Ethiopian style of cooking in mind. 

Dr. Gadgil is a strong proponent of field testing, and says that while the principles of the efficient cookstove were known for many decades, the Berkeley team is doing things more effectively just by listening to the end user. While efficiency tests allow researchers to understand how much firewood the stoves can save under ideal lab conditions, he stressed the importance of measuring efficiency and use in the field. These field tests usually consist of one group of women cooking a traditional meal using a three-stone fire and another group that simultaneously cooks an identical meal using the energy efficient cookstove.  Currently there are twenty fuel-efficient cookstoves being tested on the ground in Ethiopia.  Dr. Gadgil hopes to have 500 more of the stoves in Ethiopia for additional testing in the coming months.

Video of the Berkeley-Darfur Stove Assembly Shop | Courtesy of 

Dr. Gadgil and his team have visited field testing sites in both Sudan and Ethiopia to interview and observe the women using the cookstoves, each of which starts out as a flat sheet of metal in India. After the stove design is finalized at the Berkeley Lab, they are sent to a parts manufacturer in India. The manufacturer then turns these sheets of metal into the parts of the stove. The stove design is stamped into the metal sheets to make “flat-kits” (much like the furniture you would buy at Ikea). The “flat-kits” are then shipped to the regions they will be used, where the NGO partners on the ground assemble the stoves with the refugees and sell to the users. This cost-efficient distribution method allows for more stoves to be manufactured and sold to the users, and cost about $25 to purchase and currently saves users in North Darfur about $330 per year in fuel costs.

Before embarking on his work with the cookstoves, Dr. Gadgil patented several innovations, including “UV Waterworks,” a technology to inexpensively disinfect drinking water in developing countries. Check out the Darfur Stoves Project for more information about Dr. Gadgil's efforts in Darfur and beyond.