Department of Energy

Department of Energy Planning Cookstoves Research, Releases Biomass Technical Meeting Summary

May 10, 2011

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Improved cookstove in village of Santa Cruz de Lanchi, installed through Peru’s national cookstove program. | Photo credit: Ranyee Chiang, DOE

Improved cookstove in village of Santa Cruz de Lanchi, installed through Peru’s national cookstove program. | Photo credit: Ranyee Chiang, DOE

Cookstoves may seem like a strange fit for the Department of Energy, an agency with a history of supporting high-tech innovations in science and technology -- especially for clean, renewable energy. However, despite the small size of these cooking devices, improved stoves will have a big impact on climate and the health and livelihoods of many families around the world.

Awareness is building about the environmental and health risks of inefficient cookstoves -- in fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Julia Roberts discussed this issue on “Extraordinary Moms,” a Mother’s Day special that aired on May 7. Traditional stoves and open fires for cooking and heating -- fueled by wood, crop waste and dung -- are used by about one-third of the world’s population. According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from these cooking devices is responsible for the deaths of 1.6 million people every year from pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease and lung cancer. In addition to improving health, clean and efficient cookstoves help keep women and children safe by reducing the burden and dangers of searching for firewood. Sustainable local industries for cookstove production, distribution, and use can improve the livelihoods of households and communities around the world.

Inefficient cookstoves also affect environmental sustainability and global climate change. Improved stoves can reduce carbon pollution, especially black carbon, a component of the soot that is emitted when biomass is burned. Stoves with improved efficiency can also reduce the pressure on forests from gathering firewood.
Many projects are working to design, distribute, and sell improved stoves around the world. In fact, Dr. Ashok Gadgil and his team of researchers at the Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have been developing innovative and affordable stoves for refugees in Sudan and Ethiopia. The Department of Energy is interested in supporting additional stove innovations -- making stoves cleaner, more efficient, and more affordable.

Creating cleaner and more efficient cookstoves will require scientific research to understand the processes of using biomass fuels at a small scale, how dangerous pollutants are formed, and how to minimize impacts on the environment. Improved cookstoves, as with any new technology, will need to be both cost- and performance-competitive with existing technologies. Sustainable markets with affordable products and effective support infrastructure will be needed.  Thus, the cookstoves program is well aligned with the Department of Energy’s core mission to establish clean and renewable energy sources that reduce carbon pollution and harm to health and the environment.

The cookstoves program is unique among Department of Energy projects -- these technologies will be deployed around the world in households living on as little as $1 a day.  Therefore, the Department of Energy’s support of technical R&D will be part of a highly coordinated effort with other U.S. agencies who work in complementary areas, including health, air quality, international development, and diplomacy. As part of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, the Department of Energy will be working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, the State Department, and USAID as well as other governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Cookstove researchers and implementers have recognized that technical R&D can achieve long-term improvements. The Department of Energy convened a meeting in January 2011 to gather input from the cookstove community.  A summary of this meeting was released today by the Biomass Program in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  The meeting discussions revealed that significant emissions reductions and efficiency improvements via science and engineering efforts can bring indoor air pollution to levels that meet guidelines from the World Health Organization.  The report summarizes the discussions about the challenges and opportunities for research, which will guide the Department of Energy’s upcoming efforts to foster innovations that can benefit lives and the environment around the world.