Cookstove Monitoring



The cooks in Nana Kenieba, a backcountry village in southern Mali, have well-designed, clean-burning stoves that they don’t use often. Instead, they cook over the open fires that the stoves were supposed to replace.

Cookstoves have been supplied to more than 800 million people worldwide. The stoves are aimed at solving the crises of indoor air pollution, deforestation, and economic hardship linked to open cooking fires, but cook­stoves go unused around the world.

There may be a design solution, but not one that can be discovered in a lab. How can stove developers learn about the practices of cooks in millions of open-fire kitchens? And how much, if at all, are the stoves reducing air pollution and fuel consumption? New monitoring technologies may provide some answers.

Nexleaf's cookstove usage sensor helps measure the usage of clean cookstoves. Image: Nexleaf

Businesses and universities are incorpo­rating low-cost cell phone technology and high-priced proprietary instruments into stove sensors and air quality testers. A $75 wireless device from technology company Nexleaf Analytics of Los Angeles latches to the stove and records when it’s used.

The device sends its data wirelessly using a cheap built-in cell phone. If you know what the stove is burning, the company’s analytic software can estimate the amount of fuel consumed, said Nithya Ramanathan, Nexleaf founder.

Nexleaf can also wirelessly measure black carbon emissions around the cook­ing station. Wood and coal smoke carries black carbon particles that are a major greenhouse-effect contributor and a risk factor for respiratory and other diseases.

“We’re developing monitoring tech that works in the field. Wireless is an impor­tant piece of that,” Ramanathan said. “It’s very labor-intensive and difficult to visit houses and collect data. It’s also very intrusive and can change people’s cooking practices and lead to biases,” Nexleaf Analytics’ stove sensors are retrofits, but the company is now work­ing to build sensors directly into stoves as they are manufactured. The goal will be to reduce costs with mass production and make sensing pervasive for large-scale data collection, she said.

Rob Goodier is the managing editor at Engineering for Change.

We’re developing monitoring tech that works in the field. Wireless is an important piece of that.

Nithya Ramanathan,
Founder, Nexleaf Analytics


Want to comment?

  • Tech Packaging Development (Other)
    I know little about the stove, however, here are some observations from experience and looking at the picture:
    1. the cooking stove tower looks tall and narrow - unstable for someone sitting and working the food on the stove. Is tipping / stability an issue?
    2. a fire can be started and kept going, if needed for other purposes i.e. heat, added food preparation, heating water for washing, etc.
    2a. pit fires can be made larger or smaller based on need which makes the one small tech stove useful sometimes.
    3. is there a sentimental/traditional value using traditional wood burning stove that produces a smell which cannot be replaced with the tech stove?
    4. is there a possible issue of fuel for the tech stove not always being available which makes the use of the tech stove "iffy" at best when it comes time to call it "reliable." The answer should address short term (day to day) and long term (week to week, even month to month, year to year) concerns.
    4a. also, need to address the structure of the stove and can it withstand use/abuse?
    5. has there been issues of "neighbor envy?" This is where the tech stove is eyed by the neighbor who wants to use the try same tech stove or to make something else (cannibalize) from the stove. So, this generates a hide the stove and not use it attitude vs keeping the stove in the open and ready for use?
    6. is the stove heavy or awkward to transport making it undesirable to keep?

    Then, there is the old saying "you can always lead a horse to water, but, you cannot make the horse drink." How does one address this issue?
    May 02, 2014 at 06:16 AM

Please describe the type of abuse:


Are you sure you want to delete this comment?

April 2014

by Rob Goodier, E4C