Cheaper than Charcoal’ Pellet Stoves Save Money, Lives, and Trees

In Africa, smoke from cooking fires is a triple hazard – it emits dangerous gases that lead to more than a million premature deaths annually; it is the root cause of rapid deforestation; and soot from these open fires is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect. Many innovators have tried, but none have yet succeeded in switching large populations to more eco- and health-friendly stoves. This is partly due to cost, both for new stoves, as well as for a switch from charcoal to less damaging fuels. Now Emerging Cooking Solutions has come up with an integrated stove and pellet fuel system that uses local renewable biomass as its raw material, and a subscription service as its delivery model.

Delivery of the specially formulated ECS pellets to local populations via the subscription makes it cheaper for families to move away from smoky, hazardous, and deforesting charcoal. ECS provides locally assembled, modernized stoves that combine the efficiency of a gas appliance with clean, affordable fuel produced from local biomass waste.

ECS’ innovation is its business model, which finally makes charcoal-based cooking obsolete, while supplying an eco-friendlier option which is also more affordable than its predecessor. Families and households who purchase the ECS cooking solution get a stove and fuel delivered directly to them, making it easy to improve health, and reduce deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions. In Zambia, where ECS is testing the stoves, around 1.2 million tons of charcoal could be replaced by the company’s biomass-based pellets. Moving into a global market, would make it possible to reduce deforestation and waste and protect climate and health for hundreds of millions of people.

The World Energy Outlook 2011 (IEA) estimates that 468 million urban citizens lack access to clean and safe cooking solutions. Strong trend in urbanization, combined with widespread use of charcoal and weak or absent systems for recycling and waste management, is damaging people’s health as well as ecosystems. Efficient cookstoves are lauded for their ability to limit the smoke hazard and reduce fuel consumption by 40%, or more. By making use of locally available biomass waste and providing pellet-fuelled cookstoves as a subscription-fee service, Emerging Cooking Solutions is an inspiring example of how to address this urban challenge. Given the United Nations objective for universal energy access by 2030, the maturity of the technology and the affordability of the ECS subscription fee, WWF estimates that 187 million people could benefit from this energy service by 2022. (this assumes approximately 40 percent of total urban populations lacking access to clean and safe cooking solutions can be reached). 

ECS’ goal is to offer a complete household package that includes cooking fuel bundled with lights, as well as electricity for phone charging.  On the production side, ECS must develop local sources of biomass for different markets, and the company is working on a crowd-sourced collection system where people will earn cash for collected biomass. In addition, the company will specially focus on making pellets that include waste from agro-industries and sustainable forestry, invasive plant species, as well as fast-growing grasses that are currently often burnt to clear land.

Part of the company’s long-term vision is also to find methods to replenish the soil, as all movement of biomass entails some loss of minerals.

ECS’ potential for expansion includes all African nations where people currently pay for charcoal, kerosene, or firewood for heating and cooking, and where underappreciated biomass sources are being wasted. The company is developing a franchising concept to enable future partners to spread the stove+fuel subscription model to many countries and regions.

Thus far, concerns about cultural barriers to the new pelletized fuel or stove have proven negligible. Currently, the only major barrier to growth for the company is early-stage financing. 

 

ECS’ founders are Mattias Ohlson and Per Löfberg. Mattias is a systems developer with many years experience both as an entrepreneur and as a logistics manager for Doctors Without Borders. Per Löfberg has significant experience as an account manager in both business and art development. Organ Rödén is the company’s financial controller, and a specialist in risk management and company evaluation.

ECS’ unique approach is in combining efficient stoves with a method for creating an eco-fuel to fire the stoves as well as fight local problems of deforestation and health. Most deforestation initiatives have focused on stove replacement or on industrial-scale energy production and ignored the fact that currently 80-90% of Africa’s energy need is for cooking fuel. The market for pelletizing is still nascent in Africa, and working with the Zambian partners Enviroco and Copperbelt Energy Corporation ECS has had a successful pilot project, the results of which form the basis for current expansion efforts.