The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2011 Winner

BioLite Project

BioLite Project

The next generation in cook stoves

More than three billion people cook on smoky, inefficient fires fuelled by wood and other renewable solid biomass. The approximately 500 million households relying on these fires are depleting natural forest resources and each release the equivalent of up to two tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year in the form of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon. In addition to these environmental impacts, these fires exert a further toll by releasing toxic gases into the homes where they are used (leading to 1.6 million deaths each year) and requiring families to spend countless hours collecting sticks or diverting up to 15% of their income to firewood.

Past efforts to address this problem resulted in the creation of cook stoves that were either unaffordable, relied on prepared fuels that were not widely available, or offered only marginal benefits to the end user. Biolite has developed a next generation cook stove that resolves these shortcomings and represents a new approach for addressing this broad environmental and social challenge. Their approach is founded on the concept that this global problem can only be tackled with a cooking solution designed for the families who need it most – households with limited access to electricity. The vast majority of the world places high social value on modern electronic devices such as mobile phones, radios, lights, and other devices. A cooking solution that complements these devices and makes them more accessible will drive widespread adoption and use, enabling significant environmental outcomes.

The Biolite stove is the only one in the world that delivers dramatic emissions reductions and provides electrical charging capability for households that do not have access to electricity. Leveraging their patent-pending thermoelectric fan technology, the stove slashes CO2 emissions by 50 percent and black carbon (a near-term climate forcer accounting for roughly one-fifth of global warming) by 95 percent through cleaner, more complete combustion. The stove simultaneously offers an electrical charging capability for clean LED lights, mobile phones, and other electronic devices through a standard port, providing a means for families to more readily access and use these modern products in their daily lives. A day’s worth of cooking can fully charge a basic mobile phone or LED light, enhancing communications and potentially displacing dirty, inefficient kerosene lamps.

Biolite stoves have been tested in the lab and in limited field trials in India, Guatemala, and Myanmar. The work has received multiple awards including the 2010 Vodafone Innovation Prize (jointly with UC Berkeley) and 1st place in the 2010 Sustainable Brands Innovation Open. The project team now aims to conduct a large scale pilot programme and transition from the prototype stage to low rate initial production. Funds awarded through the St Andrews Prize for the Environment will serve as critical seed funding for completing a Product Finalisation and Field Testing Programme designed specifically to achieve these goals.

The 12-month programme includes completion of product development, establishing a scalable manufacturing methodology, and implementing a 1,000 unit pilot programme in northern India to verify the efficacy of the design. Funds provided will cover the capital costs, prototype stove hardware and administration expenses for the programme. Biolite will appoint a full time project director responsible for co-ordinating the design, manufacturing, and field test efforts as well as a project engineer in a supporting role. Biolite will be responsible for their salaries and stipends, allowing the prize funds to be directed 100% towards programme expenses.

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