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.
Founder, Nexleaf Analytics