Sunday, February 18, 2007

ETHOS 2007 Conference Report, and the Proceedings are Available

The Engineers in Technical and Humanitarian Opportunities of Service (ETHOS) held their 2007 annual conference January 26-28 (titled Building Foundations for Scale-Up) at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA with ~100 people attending for two and a half days of activities. ETHOS has typically been populated by technical researchers focusing on improving developing world cook stove technologies, but more and more fields have come to be included. Since ~3 billion people in the world use wood or other forms of biomass for cooking and heating, there in increased attention on biomass fuel practices because of concerns about deforestation, global warming impacts, the health effects of indoor air pollution and home safety, violence against women, and overall quality of life. Developing and implementing safer, more efficient stoves, with fewer emissions affects all of these, and requires that a broad range of technical skills be deployed. Each country requires a different approach (and different regions of many countries tend to have special needs), and then there are always different stoves for various applications – alas, there will never be a single solution so we will all be busy the rest of our lives with this work (job security for volunteers is not necessarily a benefit).

The proceedings of this conference just came out online and past conference proceedings are available nearby – presentation by presentation so you download only what you are interested in) but allow me to review just some of the work that caught my attention especially. Not everything of course is just about stoves, so read on even if you are not already a stover:

  • Paul Anderson demonstrated extremely low cost alcohol stoves, perfect for disaster relief.
  • Alan Berick described very thoughtful and elegant experiments he conducted to demonstrate the impact of pot shape and/or a thin oil film on the cooking water surface, both addressing the huge percentage of energy losses which are due just to the evaporation of water during cooking.
  • Dale Andreatta's was one of 4 gasifier stove presentations, his describing “stove science” experiments relating to a natural updraft gasifier stove (so without the need for an electric fan).
  • Rob Ballis (and others) discussed the Shell Foundation’s Household Energy and Health Project’s interests – particularly testing for emissions, including a great presentation by Chris Roden on emissions measurements and the potential impact of different emission types on global warming.
  • There were ~5 different presentations relating to stoves with ceramic inserts (such as most Rocket stove designs) including kiln building around the world, high volume manufacturing of the ONIL stove in Guatemala, a different chimney stove scale-up in Honduras (by Trees, Water, and People), institutional stoves for India, and making stoves inside refugee camps in Africa.
  • Most of us saw our first presentation (and the demonstrations later) on the commercial Philips gasifier-type stove, destined for widespread distribution soon - very nicely manufactured, and beautiful to watch in action.
  • Indoor air pollution (IAP) was the topic of several presentations about stove trials in Peru, as well as more general aspects of IAP testing and implementation.
  • And there were a host of other topics including solar cookers and concentrators, a thermoelectric generator concept, a new design for a moisture sensor, gasifier developments in China, Cambodia and the U.S., future inexpensive stove designs, reports from Ethiopia, Mali, and Kenya, microcredit strategies, and online networking for the biomass stove community.
  • And of course there were lots of stove demonstrations! What would a stover meeting be if it didn't have people showing off their latest developments - gasifiers were in particular abundance this year.
Also there was a rollout of the first few copies of the new book Comparing Cook Stoves (Approvecho, Shell Foundation, and EPA), a beautiful compendium of technical results (both efficiency and emissions) for 17 popular developing world stoves (and the traditional 3 stone fire) using standardized tests. It is clearly pointed out that laboratory tests are only part of what is needed to evaluate and compare real stoves, and that further field and kitchen tests are required in addition to the standard water boiling test (the WBT, which can be found here, along with the standard kitchen and field test protocols) - but what a start this book gives us! The book compares all kinds of stove types – permanent ones with and without chimneys, fan powered, charcoal, liquid fuel, and one solar model – so that the characteristics of these general types can be compared. Stoves will continue to be improved, and new stoves introduced so even though individual stove-specific results are dated, the conclusions and extensive discussion presented here will be useful for years to come.

The stove data presented in this book can soon be used to begin to predict the impact of the widespread implementation of a particular stove type on global warming potential (though this is tricky because of the general lack of experience with correlating lab and field results). For this one would use the values for the different individual emissions weighted by the contributions of each type to warming/cooling (each emission species has a very different long term impact, for example black soot particles given off by inefficient stoves are particularly nasty because they absorb solar radiation and they persist in the atmosphere for years). Both the reduction in fuel needed for cooking with more fuel efficient stoves, and the reduction in emissions (and changes to the emissions mix) are tangible and measurable improvements that we can use to measure the effectiveness of our projects, and this new book is the first to cover both aspects.

In my opinion, we are seeing several important trends develop within the stover community:
  • Stove implementation projects around the world are scaling up (into the hundreds of thousand or even millions of stoves per project - orders of magnitude more than in the past), and everyone is talking about how to do it in ways that will work.
  • With large corporations and wealthy individual donors (many with technical backgrounds) becoming more involved, because of the growing appreciation for all the consequences of poor burning practices, we can expect more results-oriented philanthropy which will reward better and better stove research and implementation efforts. The old days of smaller implementations, less attention to local needs, and inadequate monitoring of performance and success are numbered, and there will be increased attention paid to each project’s measured outcomes.
  • Gasifier stove designs (typically using electric fans) look like excellent choices for the long haul, when we have to address urban users with a little more disposable income for cooking “appliances”, additional fuel choices besides wood and charcoal, and stoves with the ultimate in high efficiency and low emissions. Besides just stove efforts, a new market infrastructure for processed "densified" waste biomass – such as briquettes – is going to be needed for gasifier stoves, and these efforts will benefit also the non-electric Rocket-type stoves which will dominate implementations in the near term. Getting away from ever cutting trees just for fuel, leaving them for lumber and ecological purposes, will be the end result, and China will lead the way there.
  • Health (including both pollution and safety aspects) and global warming concerns will continue to grow the need for better stove R&D compared to the past, and will require that the stover community broaden even further to include more social science, medical, and emissions expertise. Stove contributions to climate change will soon put us in the news more and more, as the public becomes educated about what is being done globally to reverse present trends. Food crop based ethanol efforts, and similar popular Western approaches, will then be seen as very small bits of a very big picture, and better stoves will get the attention that they deserve.

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