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Third World Stove Soot Is Target In Climate Fight


The starting point of this discussion was an article Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight, published in the New York Times. Karabi distributed the link to the article to the members for their perusal and opinion

She wrote to say that with the unusual rise in temperature all across India even the common man was discussing climate change and blaming the global warming. She asked the members about whom they thought was responsible and what was the solution?
Here is a brief summary of the article including a link to to the full article.

What followed was an interesting discussion on:
  • What are the options available for sustainable supply of good-quality, low-cost clean burning fuels
  • Designs of Improved Wood Stoves available which reduce emissions at least by half
  • Advantages of LPG and grid electricity as a clean fuel option
  • Alcohol from renewable sources as a clean fuel option in the near future
  • Fuel Choices Made by Householders in developing countries

Advantages of LPG and grid electricity as a clean fuel option

Nikhil Desai wrote back to say,”It doesn't matter who is responsible. Solutions have been known for some time as far as "Third World Stove Soot" is concerned - cleaner fuels and/or more complete combustion". (It's not just stoves; soot from coal/oil in transport and industry, and from forest / savannah fires, is huge? He thought that making charcoal from borreal forests in the northern hemisphere and shipping it to Africa would make a good carbon project.)

He said,“Some people seem to be hung up on more efficient woodstoves or solar substitution for houseahold cooking”. He said that taking soot into account, "sustainable biomass" becomes a ridiculous concept. What we want is sustainable supply of good-quality, low-cost biomass that can be burnt more completely in better devices; burning a ton of wood, emitting 3 tons CO2 , 10-15 tons CO2-equivalent of other GHGs including soot, then spending valuable land and time on growing wood that absorbs 3 tons of CO2 via photosynthesis and calling it 'sustainable biomass' is weird accounting as far as the climate is concerned."

All experience, evidence and common sense indicates that, except for some revolutionary breakthrough in technology and business models, the quickest reductions in emissions would come from fuel switch. Some particular regions and fuel/device markets (especially non-household and where coal is the main fuel) do offer potential for higher-quality wood or other biomass fuels in combination with higher-quality combustion devices and improved combustion practices. But other than that, LPG is the answer.

He pointed out that even in a remote place like Vanuatu, LPG demand has crossed 100 tons (with retail price of more than $3/kg) and there are now supply bottlenecks. Eliminating traditional wood use with LPG will take 5,000 tons per year of LPG and that isn't going to happen any time soon, if ever. But he was confident that LPG did and will do more to reduce soot here - and everywhere in the world - than solar or household stoves.

Liz Bates wrote to say that she thought the article was an excellent but she agreed with Nikhil that LPG is an excellent fuel, but said that to limit one's options to just one thing (LPG) is a bit like mending a large hole in a bucket, whilst leaving all the other holes leaking water - or in this case discharging heat energy. LPG is great, if one can afford both the stove and the fuel - but more importantly, if one can access it - and do so reliably .she said that rural communities suffer from indoor air pollution because there are millions of people who cook on traditional stoves and rudimentary fires, using wood that they gather for free. It is difficult to assume, people will willingly switch to a stove that costs a month's wages and for which they regularly have to buy all their fuel from some distant town.

Liz said that she believed that development “ does not happen”- rather that it is a process, and as soon as one can enable people to start down the road of reducing their emissions and their fuel consumption, then one is doing a good thing -because it also impacts on their health and quality of life. Often protecting wood stocks can lead to time savings within relatively short time frames (5-10years) – no one belittles farmers for growing food, so why not also grow fuel, and why not grow both and convert the residues to clean fuel.

Half the smoke sorted now is surely better than waiting until some future date when all the world is rich enough to switch directly to liquid fossil fuels delivered to their door. Also if we wait this long, many of the present LPG users will be looking to the next generation of fuels; the renewable liquid fuels (such as the alcohols ) as it is realised that LPG and its friends are finite solutions, becoming ever more finite as more people quite rightly adopt the fuel.

What are the options available for sustainable supply of good-quality, low-cost clean burning fuels

Liz Bates mentioned that she was working with Project Gaia on fuel alcohols, and it isclean, renewably sourced and affordable. It would not surprise her if, by the end of her lifetime, alcohol will be the fuel that many in the industrialised world will be using. Despite this, she could see a role for any fuel options that people can afford, that the cook likes using, and that will rid both their homes and the planet of excess pollutants.

Ani Rajvanshi agreed with Liz saying that he thought with alcohol Liz was on the right track. The user survey done by him is yielding positive response. See learn more click here

Nikhil responded to Liz saying that the question was rapid reduction of soot not poverty, nor was it trees. If someone has a solution that can reduce soot drastically and can be adopted by 20 million households, it's worth considering. Other solutions can be pursued for other reasons, but not for climate benefit. But he did not agree that all renewable energy technologies had only one merit or that it's carbon. He expressed the opinion that if one cannot access LPG then you can do nothing' for soot reduction. in any meaningful way. He pointed out the experience of the last 40 years — Third World cities have grown and household wood/coal combustion has been phased out with the use of LPG, gas, electricity, kerosene.

He was amazed him that the NY Times article wouldn't even think of mentioning LPG or natural gas-since they are - "cleaner fuels and/or more complete combustion".

He said that he had only criticized 'improved woodstoves for the poor'. He did not accept the articles of faith; and said that there is no reason to attack LPG, especially when there isn't one - NOT ONE - cleaner-burning woodstove that has had sales of five million and the cost/performance features promising enough to sell ten-fold.

Nikhil defended the LPG as a fuel option by saying that an LPG stove is not everybody's "month's wages", and wages grow. There can be subsidies – or a price on black carbon . It certainly is a good price to pay for people's health. The question was, according to him, not whether LPG is for everybody now ,but that many more people can be provided access to LPG in the next five to ten years than with anything else. At least, that's the record of the last 30 years........... But he also said that may be, a stove revolution might be just around the corner. (Radio-isotopic thermo-electric generator perhaps? More promising than improved woodstoves.)

Regarding growing fuel or using crop residues, Nikhil pointed out that growing food or fuel is a low-productivity job, and when someone else can deliver food or fuel cheaper, it's time to get out of growing food or fuel yourself. The evidence points that billion plus people have left food or fuel production.

He mentioned that setting aside the Black Carbon issue if things are put in less contentious mode :
  1. It would be nice to have maps of fuel access and relative prices, with 10-year changes. There has been argument over affordability and access, but he has not seen a single systematic report on affordability, access, and changes in market shares for non-electric fuels. ..nobody bothers to collect facts.
  2. It would be nice to have marketing and awareness programs, perhaps in cooperation with health groups and 'domestic violence' groups. He said he considered, smokey fuels are violence against women. He expressed amazement at how even groups that otherwise work with women don't address the cooking problems.

With reference to the article and Anil's query (in a previous mail) on hidden agenda of New York times Nikhil said that there was room for debate on the claim "with recent studies estimating that wood stoves are responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide”. He said that he would leave it to climate science folks on the list. But reminded everyone that blaming gases and blaming processes are very different things. For instance, this 40% number for CO2...If we consider it to be from fossil fuel sources and other sources; the acceptable ratio is 2:1. So, fossil-fuel warming is some 26%, give or take a few percentage points to allow for uncertainties and measurement errors. But then we should also credit fossil fuels for putting out SO2 and other aerosols that have a cooling effect. So the net effect in the short run? Perhaps close to zero.So according to Nikhil the hidden agenda is obvious — undermine the fossil fuel industry.

Grant Ballard Tremeer disagreed with Nikhil and said, ”I don't think you are right with this, and the case is far from closed: I think the situation is far more nuanced than you make out. LPG is not the only way to reduce soot levels dramatically. It is quite possible to reduce soot levels using other approaches including improved wood stoves (a 50% reduction quite easily with a 'rocket' type stove, a 90% reduction with a gasifier stove or fan stove),alcohol fuels (over 95% reduction), over 99% reduction with biogas, and the others you mentioned (electricity 99% with the right, costly emissions controls) and kerosene, perhaps 80% in a simple stove). So you can do substantial things for soot reduction, and in a meaningful way without LPG”. “But, it is also true that recent research does imply that a 50%particulate matter reduction in exposure which a rocket-type stove can quite easily achieve without any other actions is insufficient to benefit health substantially. Over the past 40 years the use of wood for cooking round the world has increased not reduced - there are more people every day cooking with wood. In many cities wood is usually not available or less cost effective so people use LPG, electricity, charcoal and kerosene”.

Grant agreed with Nikhil Desai’s statement regarding the lack of information for an informed debate, but did not agree that "no one bothers to collect facts". He stated,"There are many of us trying to do that (but with very limited resources)". He refered to the recent Boiling Point interview of Dr. Kirk Smith wherin Kirk states: "To date however relatively little money has been spent. My estimate is probably that since the beginning of this whole thing, less than $20 million has been spent on research. Every new coal fired power plant in China, that is about one built every week, has about $80 million of air pollution control on it, even in China where air pollution control isn’t famous for being rigorous. So that means every week, four times as much is being spent on air pollution control in every power plant in just one country than was spent in the entire history of improved stoves, and yet the air pollution exposure from stoves are many orders of magnitudes above that from power plants, let alone one power plant."

Nikhil replied to Grant saying that 40 years are past. The future is another matter. Unit reduction potentials by rocket stoves, biogas, don't mean much unless there is rapid uptake. The challenge still remains. I am willing to bet $1,000 that five years from now, more cooking will be done with LPG than with these other experimental technologies, but I would be happy to lose.

Nikhil also said that he did not believe that "Over the past 40 years the use of wood for cooking round the world has increased not reduced." But even if it has, it should be remembered that world population has more than doubled and so have incomes and food intakes. So, wood has most definitely lost market share .And LPG, electricity, charcoal has permitted growth with health.

He said if wood use has increased in absolute terms, all that means is that the more poor people you have, the greater the market for inferior products which is not a cause for celebration. Also the fact that wood is not easily available in the city should be a cause for celebration that the market for wood has disappeared in most cities. Unless one has cleaner stoves, banish wood from densely populated areas!!
Nikhil mentioned that solid fuels are generally difficult to handle in small applications — too polluting, difficult to control. Solid fuels however should not be confused with other biomass. Bio liquids and biogas are undoubtedly superior - it's not the fuels source and the labels you put on them that matter but their combustion properties, which are linked to the devices. Nikhil said that he learnt the lesson from Grant’s work in this area.
Nikhil said he agreed with Kirk's observation and asks a question – “If there wasn't a lobby for funding stoves research, was there something wrong with stoves research and researchers and advocates? :-) After all, 'saving wood' obviously doesn't appeal to many people. "Savings lives" might probably exposure/risk data on the rocket stoves and biogas stoves aren't worth collecting in the eyes of funders; Until poor people's lives were valued - by those with deep pockets, - "improved stoves" will remain an un-improved dream”.

He wondered that may be there was another reason. Depending on GWP for soot and other GHGs, it is quite possible that replacing "traditional" wood/charcoal use with grid electricity — with the Chinese fuel-mix and allowing for a reasonable network loss - might be better in carbon accounting terms. He concludes by stating not just LPG, even grid electricity (coal, gas, hydro combined) might be better for "fighting climate change" than "improved woodstoves", when the total market potential (not unit rates) for the next five years is considered. Unquestioned fondness for wood and unqualified resistance to these so-called "finite" fuels (oil, gas, coal) was puzzling to him.

Lazarus Chewe joined the discussion to say that he was one the delegates to the just ended PCIA forum in Kampala, Uganda. One of the interesting things he leant in the field visit was that an improved stove is not enough for soot reduction .The design of kitchens also matters. With regards to climate change, he said hewas not sure what the writer of that article was trying to convey.

Nikhil asked Lazarus if anybody at the PCIA Kampala forum had anything to say whether the design of kitchens is relevant for LPG use and soot emissions/exposures? If not, that might explain why people prefer to switch to LPG when they can afford to instead of waiting till they can afford a kitchen change.

Nikhil was willing to bet that over the past ten years in Uganda due to increasing use of electricity, more trees were saved and health pollutant emissions avoided. It was entirely possible that the growth in "cooking" with electricity (including water-heating, space-heating) and the increasing demand for electricity had a major contribution to the power shortages. He said that while rich country environmentalists work on 'improved woodstoves' for the poor, some poor get richer and if they are in cities, partially shift to electricity if somehow that is more accessible than LPG (which is sometimes the case). If power and LPG planning and policy issues get ignored (as the fondness for "biomass energy" diverts attention ) power shortages develop and ultimately the poor suffer.

Elizabeth Cecelski, was interested to know what was the potential for electric cooking? She said that usually it was immediately dismissed due to power shortages, thermal inefficiencies and cost of appliances. She said that electric cooking is being increasingly used though, in both Asia (rice cookers especially) and Africa. Women like it, and it clearly reduces emissions at the level of the kitchen and can save trees. She wanted answers to the following questions:

  • Was there any work showing the role of electric cooking in power shortages and emissions at the generation point?
  • Implications for the power system ( higher cost distribution technologies)? Constraints and opportunities? We have all seen rural electrification with lighting only and three stone fires for cooking outside.

Nikhil said that he was glad Elizabeth had raised this question. While "experts" might dismiss electric cooking for the reasons cited by her, casual observation suggests that in most parts of the world, the last 15 years have seen increasing affluence in the urban areas - and electrical appliance sales have grown. A part of the reason is trade liberalization - so import duties on electrical appliances have dropped. And another reason, of course, is the emergence of lower-cost producers like South Korea and China.

"Cooking" as part of electrical appliance market is usually small (refrigerators, air-conditioners, entertainment dominate). Yet, his suspicion was that at the lower end of the market - i.e., people not rich enough to buy fridges and air-conditioners, but not too poor to afford first a TV and then a kettle, a water-heater, an electric hot plate - the "cooking" appliances have grown rapidly. And because this market is larger from kWh point of view, it's the "not-rich/not-poor" people's "cooking" that has contributed significantly to electricity demand growth.

Nikhil continued to say that in a few countries he had a chance to look at electricity sales by customer types, and he had noticed that in many countries electricity sales to the manufacturing sector had declined or not grown as much, while those to the residential and commercial sectors had grown. It is not easy to show the role of electric cooking in power shortages; electricity demand comes from all sources. Occasionally there are nice anecdotes - for instance, back in the early 1990s, the shift from wood to electricity in 'injera-baking' had started giving rise to a morning peak (around 10-11 am) in Addis Ababa. He had also heard anecdotes about morning or evening peaks from hot water baths. The lower-income electricity users tend not to use electricity for much cooking, and their use (like water heating) tends to spread out over non-peak periods.

As for emissions at the generation point, he said that when all emissions are considered (in particular soot), it was quite possible that except for some heavily coal-dominated systems, electricity emissions are more benign than those from "traditional" open wood combustion.
According to Nikhil Desai,distribution question was complicated if "too many" people in a given area start using "too much" electric cooking, demand gets much higher and distribution network has to be upgraded or the maintenance costs increase. He said that he had seen that in some low-income clusters of large Third World cities. His opinion is,”That's what you get when, for instance, you ban charcoal and/or tax LPG. Poor people don't have much daytime use of electricity, and evening use for cooking, lighting, and water heating overloads the network”.

He replied to Liz Bate's opinion on future of fuel alcohols saying that some parts of the industrialized world are already using fuel alcohols - and with not-so-nice effects. He said that one should be cautious about the term "renewably sourced and affordable" with respect to fuel alcohol. Although he agreed that some fuel alcohols will be affordable to some people sometime and he would be happier if it's sooner and for more people. With respect to clean air and climate change he said that to him "renewable biomass" just doesn't make sense. What matters is simply that liquid or gaseous fuels burn more completely and therefore had fewer emissions of some kind. It doesn't matter where the carbon comes from; only how it goes and where.

Joan Kyokutamba said that she thought that 'renewably sourced' has got a great deal to do with it - and would be interested to hear the counter-argument.

Liz Bates replied that renewable biomass and fuel alcohols do make a lot of sense and argued the point as follows:

"In the UK, in my teens, we 'found' oil....we have now finished the oil we found, and are constantly worried that Putin will turn off the tap. The UK is a relatively rich country. There are many countries in Africa that do not have fossil fuel, and if the governments cannot afford to import the fossil fuel then people will revert to biomass and get respiratory ailments, or burn it more cleanly, or go hungry”.

She said that the quantity of available LPG is not as important as the delivery or supply chain of LPG at a given place. She drew a comparison between the LPG supply chain and renewably-sourced ethanol for ethanol stoves in a country that traditionally grows sugar-cane or other ethanol-producing crops. The advantages she mentioned were:
  1. The ethanol is produced locally within, say, a ten mile radius of the place where it will be burnt.
  2. It is made from crop residues that would otherwise clog up the rivers and pollute the land,
  3. It is produced by the local people who live in the district, bringing employment.
  4. As the ethanol is being burnt, new crop is growing - still within a ten mile radius, still available to the local population,
  5. The supply of ethanol is not dependent on government policy on imports etc, nor on the amount of import duties,
  6. Since the fuel alcohol is locally produced money does not leave the country....and this cycle can go on and on....because the source of the fuel is renewable.

So she asked why this wasnot a reasonable argument?

Joan Kyokutamba provided an idea about the energy situation in Uganda. She said that while electricity may not be extensively used for cooking in these parts of the world, they may need to recognise the impact of energy saving stoves used in institutions especially schools and hospitals, and to a lesser extent, hotels and restaurants. Given the general growth of the population, the number of boarding schools have also shot up, and due to the scarcity of wood in countries like Uganda, they have adopted energy saving stoves. Not recognising this stove effect is to ignore a core contribution!

Tami Bond joined the discussion and said that she was puzzled by people saying 'This or that is NOT the answer' when the challenge is so enormous that nearly everything must be part of a solution.She said that she would like to hear more about WHERE or WHEN different solutions work. Any intervention requires training, program attention, goodwill, behaviour and/or market change. Given finite resources, one might get only one shot at an intervention in a particular place. It should be the best possible-- 'best' being defined by some admittedly subjective weighting of indoor-air exposure, outdoor-air exposure, and climate impact. A 50% emission reduction might be better than nothing but we shouldn't waste the opportunity if we could have got a 90% reduction.

She asked the following questions:
  • Where (or for whom) is LPG the best solution, reasonably robust, moderately immune to price volatility?
  • Where, or for whom, is charcoal, alcohol fuel, Briquesttes, gasyfying and fan stoves with managed production, the best solution-- this on both the production and consumption side?

She mentioned that except for the places where the LPG, charcoal ,alcohol fuel, gasifying stove and fan stove is the best solution ,rocket stoves, which reduce emission by 50% ,should be sent everywhere else.

Liz responded to Tami’s question by agreeing that Tami was correct though she thought there was quite a lot of data already available on what works where and why - albeit a bit dispersed. She said that she felt that the argument was about whether we should still be looking at anything other than fuel switching - and whether it mattered whether we switched to fossil fuel, or fuel which keeps growing back (renewable).

Liz said that she agreed with Tami that that it is a big world and we need every available option, but could we be wrong, and would it be better using all available funding to go down the clean liquid /gas / electrification fuel route?"

She questioned Tami about her opinion on the rocket stove.She said that as someone who has done so much to highlight the dangers of black carbon and its role as both an indoor pollutant and a greenhouse gas, it looked as if she would still include 50% rockets if she( Tami) had millions of dollars to spare. Liz concludes by asking other people to express their thoughts.

Tami said that Liz has raised a good question. She elaborated as follows:

“Fossil vs replenishable fuel: Why must we choose? If I could re-design the situation, I would make clean liquid and gas fuels with fuel-stove connections that are interchangeable. Get people on to clean fuels now, fossil if we must, and gradually replace their LPG-like cylinders with similar cylinders from a source that can be replenished and has more reliable prices.”

Regarding Liz’s question on Rocket stove Tami said that she hedged on this question. She thought that her answer would depend on the desired pace of change. If people wanted to act really quickly, say cut black carbon emissions by 50% in 5-8 years, then she would guess that presently the 50%-ERR (emission reduction Rocket) is the only known option for some regions. However, she was curious to see the rate of improvements in cheap stoves now that there is some development money. Whether or not the *current* Shell/Envirofit, Philips, British Petroleum stoves efforts come to fruition, I thought that an unprecedented movement has been started. She said her answer in 2 years, looking at a 10-15 year replacement horizon, might be different.

On the topic of availability of the highly dispersed data on fuel option and use she asked how we can overcome that dispersal? She said,”You know some answers, and many on this list know some of them as well, but why do we still have the NY Times thinking that solar cooker giveaways are a whopping good idea? No offense to that admirable effort is intended, but I still see a lot of information that is NOT flowing”.

Harry Stokes asked, “Who is doing the choosing and with whose money?”

Spenders of roughly 3/4 of the money (for household energy) in the world are choosing fossil fuels and their derivatives or electricity by other means.
He said he did not understand what this so-called 'replenishable' argument was all about. On one hand, he saw breast-beating that wood use for the poor is not sustainable, and trying to get carbon finance for it. On the other hand, all the so-called depletable fuels like crude oil, natural gas, coal that we knew existed in 1977 got depleted and replaced, and perhaps once again. So fossil fuels are amply re-chargeable. He said that we can make our fuel choices as we feel like but we should not expect normal people to follow in line.

Regarding Tami’s statement on interchangeable fuel stove connections Harry emphatically stated that we do not have to re-design the situation, that this is INDEED how it is already?? People who have an electric stove-top can start using 'renewable electricity' And people who have LPG stoves and cylinders can switch to biogases (biomethane, biopropane)?

Fuel Choices Made by Householders in developing countries

The discussion then changed course from climate change to fuel choices by households. Harry said that what mattered was the recognition that household choices are made with consideration of what happens around the world, which keeps changing. For forty years now, much of the 'household energy' writing implicitly has a very static, stagnant view of the market and customers, supply chains, preferences, relative prices. He said , “Just think - except for an electric light, the iconic "poor woman with a girl in a smokey shack'picture” — has been such a standard-bearer for forty years.”

He also pointed out that many countries like, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, have changed remarkably in the last 40 years but the breast-beaters of the world are romantically attached to images that convey helplessness and do not need for others to make choices. He said he made fun of solar cookers and improved woodstoves for households, but only because the rich country greens can't get themselves - and their governments - to even utter the word LPG or electricity. Solar cooking and water heating have their markets, so do rocket stoves but we should not forget there are people who make choices on their money day in and day out, and those decisions are quite different from grant allocations from bureaucracies indoctrinated against oil companies and electric utilities.

Nikhil remarked that in both Tami's and Liz's e-mails there was an undercurrent of "other people's money". Tami talked about "interventions" and "finite resources"and Liz about "all available funding" and "millions of dollars to spare". He said that the curse of rich people's spare money is that it constricts thinking by people dependent on that money. Over time, it constricts talking - (Lazarus' comment about the Kampala PCIA meeting is an example of telling silence). But it fosters solidarity and commitment, ideological purity, some souls are saved. Opening new missions depends on more rich people's spare money or spare time; pity that more souls are lost than saved.

But there is other money out there, money at work in saving stomachs. There is market for cooking fuels, combustion appliances, cooking utensils and eating implements, and of course food, raw and prepared . He picked some numbers for this market:
  1. Customer size: About 600 million households (and some commercial/institutional suppliers of food and beverages to those households, so use this number as household-equivalent) use 'traditional' solid fuels for some part of their cooking. Say, about 3/4 of their fuel is not purchased, and perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 the food is not purchased either.
  2. These households-equivalent. spend about $10 b a year on their cooking appliances (stove, kettle, pot, baking dish, whatever), and another $300 b a year on purchased foods and beverages. Of course, there will would variation due to demographic, geographic, income, cultural parameters.

The question he asked was what do we know has changed in the last ten years? Who has changed to cleaner energy and why? Has there been any change in income, household composition, different eating/drinking habits? He suspected that reducing food costs (inclusive of cooking costs) and inconvenience, not fuel costs, is the priority for most lower-income working people (including mothers at home). Nikhil said that sellers of "reducing fuel costs" - especially for rural wood - have been asking the wrong question and providing the wrong answers. Trees don't need to be saved; they can be re-grown. People need to be saved, because with better health, the demographic transition would be quicker.
Segun Balogun wrote to say that he found the the discussion interesting and said,”I guess somewhere in here was the solution to the energy crisis of Nigeria”.

Harry Stokes wrote about their project in Nigeria. He mentioned that in 2006-7 they had conducted a pilot study of CleanCook alcohol stoves in three locations in Delta State, Nigeria, with very favourable results. They were supported in this study by a grant from the USEPA-PCIA program. They used methanol in this pilot study. Since methanol, a simple alcohol like ethanol, is toxic, it was distributed to each household already charged in the CleanCook fuel canister, which holds the alcohol adsorbed into fibre wadding, making it unavailable as a liquid and unable to spill out. They were now working with a private Nigerian business partner to build a small-scale (100 tons-per-day) natural gas to methanol plant that will allow gas that is normally flared or vented to be taken into a small, efficient gas synthesis plant where it is easily and cheaply converted, with 99% selectivity, to methanol. The cost of the resultant methanol fuel, at anticipated feedstock prices, would be less than 10 cents US per litre. A litre represented a full day of cooking energy for a family of 4 or 5. This project provides dramatic CO2-reduction and also black carbon reductions on both ends of the project, the flare avoidance end and the consumer end when the stove is used. The stove combusts with almost zero soot production and with CO production that is well below the WHO recommended threshold.

He said that Nigeria is also investigating industrial scale production of cassava for ethanol production. New enzymes permit low temperature fermentation of starches and the production of ethanol from starchy feedstocks just as efficiently as from sugary feedstocks. So cassava, sorghum and other specialized crops suited for industrial scale cultivation are now good feedstocks for ethanol.

He opined that if all of the gas currently flared in the Niger Delta were converted to methanol for cooking fuel, there would be enough methanol to provide cooking for every family in Africa, and then for more families on other continents. We should be cognizant of the enormous amounts of energy we waste and should learn to use this energy cleanly, efficiently and safely. Sub Sahara Africa is both resource and energy rich, and the alcohols are the way to unlocking this energy.

He said that to know more about this project , Joe Obueh, our Nigerian project leader, at jobueh at projectgaia.com or at ceheen at hotmail.com may be contacted. Harry said that he agreed with Tami and said that we cannot afford to close off any solution, however imperfect they may seem. A 50% reduction is progress and solutions will be evolutionary.

On the topic of harnessing the flared gases for abundant methanol production , Tami commented that ,”Why just stop at cooking? It seemed to her that gas-based methanol could be a better transport fuel than corn-based ethanol.

She mentioned that she liked electricity as a fuel but there are two things she does not like about it.
  • Efficiency: Electricity takes a 70% hit before you even get to the transmission line. In the grand scheme, this doesn't matter. We were talking about such small energy use that, even counting for the efficiency loss, it doesn't matter.
  • Diversity (of sources): Once we're committed to electricity, the power companies choose the source. If your point-of-choice is not at generation, but closer to end-use, you have more options.

Ron Larson said he wished to make just make a few points on rural cook stoves that he had not yet seen in the recent exchanges:
  • He would put income generation very high on his list of criteria for choosing a stove (just behind clean air). The charcoal-making stove is the only one he knows of that can give the rural cook a bit of income. Not huge - but same order of magnitude as present income levels for a few billion rural poor. Maybe $100 per year per stove above fuel cost savings? This funding will come for both climate and soil-improvement reasons and will be in no sense a give-away.
  • The latest generation of charcoal-making stoves appear to be as clean and power-level-controllable (convenience factor) as LPG, alcohol and similar competitors to wood burning stoves in all regards (soot, CO, etc.) This new generation of charcoal-making stoves can also add fuel - they are not single-batch-load limited.
  • The main drawback is that pyrolysis stoves (air-controlled, not fuel controlled) can't use large size fuel - the main labor-saving advantage he see for the Rocket. But perhaps this was a blessing - as today's charcoal makers can instead be employed as fuel preparers and fuel supply tenders
  • If one doesn't already think placing char in the ground than combusting it after making it (badly) has merit for a) fossil fuel depletion, b) climate, and/or c) soil depletion (and desertification) reasons then those persons are not aware of benefits of Biochar. In his opinion, Biochar has its greatest opportunity for near-term growth in the poorest countries - the reason that the UNCCD has endorsed it for the Copenhagen talks. Charcoal is too valuable to be combusted.

Paul Anderson wrote to say the article in the New York Times was a very good article and it had stimulated a lively discussion on the CleanAirSIG list. In fact, the article is the very first time that TLUD cookstoves and the “fan-jet” stoves have been mentioned (albeit not by name) on a front page article of the New York Times;

He said that it would be VERY WRONG to put all available funding down the route to clean liquids and gases and electrified stoves. Especially not now when much cleaner emissions can be obtained from the gasifier and fan-jet stoves that do use renewable dry biomass fuels. He directed the readers to one web-published paper that give the available scientific data about clean burning in the TLUDs: www.bioenergylists.org/andersontludcopm

Or fondness for dung fuel or briquettes or chips or agro-wastes, all of which are dry biomass that can work in the gasifier cookstoves. Really, the “fondness for wood” is by the stove users and stove makers who like “stick fuel” that is usually made by splitting larger branches and trunks, resulting in killing the trees. Instead, the gasifiers favor leaving the living trees and using the smaller branches that are plentiful and easier to cut into shorter segments.

Now we do have cleaner stoves. So we can bring wood back to the cities, complete with their additional 70% of energy value that is thrown away in the making of charcoal.And in the TLUD gasifiers, the solid biomass fuel is first changed into pyrolytic combustible gases and slightly later combusted in the burner. So, it is burning GASES that it is able to liberate/create from the raw solid fuel. That is the reason why the gasifiers are cleaner burning. That is the reason why the dry biomass in gasifiers is on an equal footing with the bioliquids and biogas as being superior fuels. And that is fuel that you can transport in a sack and does not require the “middle-men” with refineries. Following along with Nikhil’s appropriate expression,

He said that the resistance to TLUDs was “unawareness” or perhaps “caution” while waiting for the TLUDs to be proven in the communities. But awareness is slowly growing since it takes stove practitioners some time to prove the utility of the stoves since it needs to be replicated in so many different types of socio-economic communities.

He was sad about slow progress and lack of support but is also excited about the stove every day!! These new clean combustion technologies for dry biomass are going to eventually make it to prime-time. But it should not be this slow, especially because the need is so great!!!!

John Davies thanked Paul for taking the time to summarize the main points of the discussion in a previous mail but felt certain aspects have not been discussed, which he wished to bring to attention. He mentioned that chimneys have not been mentioned as a clean burning aid. This, if properly matched to a stove has exactly the same effect as a fan, without the need for power supply considerations. It also doubles as a mechanism to totally remove all gasses and combustion particles from the kitchen or house. Of course it adds to the cost, but should be included as a much desired component.

He said that great emphasis has been made about replacing wood burning in cities with LPG, electricity, and other liquid fuels. It was suggested that these have largely replaced wood as it became more scarce in cities and towns. In fact this assumption is not universally true. In many places such as the area around Johannesburg, and in Mongolia, and perhaps other places, the tendency has been to turn increasingly, to coal burning for cooking and space heating. The population has increased many fold in on the South African High Plateau towns due to urbanization, and with it has come increased coal burning. All his enquiries bring the result that coal remains the most affordable heating medium. There is also just not enough LPG or electricity in the country to replace the burning of coal.

He said that he along with Crispin have been very successful with work on coal stoves, which allow clean burning, but he felt that the role players who can make a difference, choose to ignore these problems. He has placed the design of his stove in the public domain. There exists the potential to create many "cottage industry jobs " for the un employed, and introduce a better way of using, and reduce the consumption of coal, but without help this cannot be realised.

Nikhil Desai expressed his reservation about the chimneys at every home saying that there is no point taking emissions from the kitchen and putting them outside, if they can be taken farther away in a power plant. Some air modeling needs to be done. He also mentions that just as solid fuels have a place as household fuel LPG and electricity are household fuels and they should be considered as a viable and cleaner alternative.
Nikhil also provided a solution to the LPG and electricity crisis in South Africa by stating that South Africa should import more LPG and build more power plants for electricity generation.

Grant provided a link to an interesting article, ”Exceptional Energy: LP Gas – The Fuel for Africa". The article states that Nigeria was specifically chosen as a venue because despite being the biggest producer of LP Gas in sub-Saharan Africa, it has one of the lowest yearly per capita consumption rates on the whole continent. This is set to change as new regulatory frameworks are encouraging more of the locally produced LP Gas to be consumed domestically rather than exported to other markets. These changes implicitly recognize that more widespread use of LP Gas in Nigeria will help the country attain its developmental goals while reducing pressing problems such as the negative health impacts of indoor and urban air pollution and deforestation. Participants from government, businesses and others learned and exchanged ideas on the social, economic and environmental benefits of LP Gas use in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole.

Harry Stokes wrote back to say that it would be extremely beneficial if, in the effort to achieve flare reduction, Nigeria would capture the wet fraction of its natural gas for butane and propane sales to Nigeria for Nigerians.LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas, or gas placed under great pressure at cryogenic temperatures) has been a strategy for flare down. This of course only requires that the energy be exported from Nigeria, which only compounds Nigeria's energy poverty (amid great potential energy wealth).Butane and propane may constitute only about 5% of the gas available. So the supply of LPG which can derive from Nigeria's oil and gas fields is not endless. LPG will not be the solution to clean cooking worldwide because ultimately there is not enough of it. But it is a good solution in particular markets, and should be exploited to the fullest. These wet fractions of the natural gas flare are now wasted along with the rest. The flares put a lot of soot into the air, and the wet fractions contribute to this. The beauty of the methanol solution is that it uses all of the gasthe wet fraction and the remaining 95%turning it all to a liquid that handles like ethanol.

Nikhil Desai had the following questions for Harry Stokes:
  1. How does energy export compound Nigeria's energy poverty?
  2. Are there LPG delivery bottlenecks or domestic price controls? Presumably what you might mean is that the NGL fraction along with methane is exported because it yields greater export revenue (compared to dry liquefied gas) because the NGLs can't be sold locally profitably.
He said he was glad to see gas-to-methanol being useful in Nigeria instead. Some 15 years ago, USEPA had commissioned a study to determine the landed cost of methanol from Nigerian offshore gas to US West Coast. Asa Janey of ICF had done most of the work. EPA's idea was something like reducing flaring and emissions in Nigeria but also improving air quality in Los Angeles.
Maybe with tight enough carbon caps, it would be more profitable to sell Nigerian methanol to Los Angeles than in Lagos. Nigerians could build coal-fired power plants for electricity for cooking.

Anil joined the discussion and wrote about a study that he had done. He said that he did some anecdotal study in 1983 in rural Maharashtra. Anytime a household got little more money they migrated from collecting wood to buying wood to kerosene and ultimately to LPG. It just shows the city people that rural folks also have the same number of neurons in their brain! And he said that this is what he has been talking all over the world for the last 25 years -that the name of the game is convenience. What is good for New Yorkers is also good for Phaltan!

Anil mentioned that in 1970s when he had started work in solar and renewable energy in US quite a few of the thinking leaders complained in many world forum that the appropriate technology that some in the developed world were ramming down the throat of developing nations was simple dung and sun and that the whole idea was to keep these poor people still live in poverty. Nothing has changed in the last 30 years!

That is why, Anil said, if we are serious about the rural poor issues then we need to give them the best and cleanest cooking fuel - the same fuel we would like to use in our homes in urban areas. And that includes ethanol, LPG and if possible almost cheap and renewable electricity. Some of the pioneering efforts in nuclear power in 10 MW range can hopefully provide it in future.

Nikhil wrote said that , the "dung and sun" idea is not from the people from the west. It was very much home-grown in India, by Gandhians and Khadi people. The first biogas ("gobar gas") plants in India may have started while Gandhiji was around. He also remembers solar cookers on display when he was a child. The Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad still makes good solar cookers, upon orders from Gujarat Energy Development Agency.


  1. CleanAirSIG: IAP Study on Ethanol Stoves Ethiopia
  2. BP25:Fuelwood A Burning Issue In Third World
  3. Liquified Petroleum Gas
  4. Liquid Ethanol Fuel
  5. BP14:Biochar Fuels and Stoves
  6. Will People Change Their Diets To Save Fuel
  7. Ethanol
  8. Biogas
  1. Soot from wood stoves in developing world impacts global warming more than expected (26.10.2006)
  2. Can Reducing Black Carbon Emissions Counteract Global Warming? (July 6, 2005)
  3. Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Biomass and Petroleum Energy Futures in Africa
  4. A global emission inventory of carbonaceous aerosol from historic records of fossil fuel and biofuel consumption for the period 1860–1997
  5. Household Fuels and Ill-Health in Developing Countries: What improvements can be brought by LP Gas?
  6. A laboratory comparison of the global warming impact of five major types of biomass cooking stoves (September 2007)
  7. In-field greenhouse gas emissions from cookstoves in rural Mexican households
  8. http://www.unescap.org/ESD/energy/theme/documents/EnergyStatistics.pdf
  9. http://www.ese.iitb.ac.in/events/other/renet_files/21-9/Session%201/Sceneario%20of%20renewable%20energy%20in%20india(R.B.).pdf
  10. http://www.flickr.com/groups/climate_change/discuss/72157617639009155/
Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Friday September 24, 2010 12:16:34 GMT.
  • A practitioner's journal on household energy, stoves and poverty reduction.

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