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Waste heat from a BioLite HomeStove can help provide cheap, clean electricity. But will it prove a hit with cooks across the developing world?
Three billion people around the world cook on open fires, putting a billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Clean stoves have been developed, but the latest innovation also offers a source of electricity: an attractive prospect for the 1.3 billion without access.
The BioLite HomeStove, a new product launching in 2013, uses a small fan and thermoelectric generator to give two watts from waste heat, while consuming half the wood and reducing smoke by 95%. A couple of watts may not sound like much, but it’s enough to charge a mobile phone or LED lamp, extending the number of productive hours in the day.
At $40, the HomeStove still isn’t cheap, but should pay for itself within seven months according to Ethan Kay, BioLite’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets. Instead of paying up to 7% of their income to charge phones in nearby villages, families can do it at home. And, since it reduces carbon emissions, the distribution of the stove can also be supported by carbon offsetting programmes.
Of course, there are still barriers to wide-scale adoption – one of which is “to make sure that the cook likes the stove”, says Anne Wheldon, Knowledge and Research Manager at Ashden. “Otherwise, it won’t be used and won’t generate electricity.” The HomeStove also faces strong competition from existing PV products, she adds. “Would someone choose a $40 stove incorporating a phone charger, if they have the option of a $10 PV charger?”
How will the start-up address these challenges? “Our current focus is on getting a solid understanding of the key drivers of consumer adoption and developing sustainable distribution models before we bring the product to market”, says BioLite’s Erica Rosen. But she anticipates success. “Once we officially launch the HomeStove, we aim to distribute one million cookstoves over the next five years.” – Michael Ashcroft