A woman in the village of Karech, in rural India, prepares a meal on a traditional three-stone hearth. Courtesy of H.S. Udaykumar and University of IowaEnvironment Health 

Small Metal Stove Grate Makes Big Impact

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By Kate Stone

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.7 billion people worldwide still rely on wood fires to cook their food, and more than 4 million die each year from illnesses connected to household air pollution caused by that method of cooking.

An inexpensive metal insert for primitive cookstoves, created by a University of Iowa research team, may decrease global warming and potentially save many lives.

The insert decreases wood consumption by about 60 percent, and further testing  conducted in a national lab in India found that the metal insert decreased soot emissions by 90 percent.

A University of Iowa researcher created an inexpensive metal insert for primitive cookstoves, such as this one used in a remote village in India, that may decrease global warming and potentially save the lives of thousands of women and children. Courtesy of H.S. Udaykumar and University of Iowa
A University of Iowa researcher created an inexpensive metal insert for primitive cookstoves, such as this one used in a remote village in India, that may decrease global warming and potentially save the lives of thousands of women and children. Courtesy of H.S. Udaykumar and University of Iowa

Upgrading the Simple Cookstove

UI professor of mechanical and industrial engineering H.S. Udaykumar and his team spent several weeks earlier this year in the Rajasthan region of western India investigating ways to decrease the amount of firewood used for daily cooking. His goal was to help prevent deforestation in developing countries, but he discovered two secondary benefits that have proven extremely significant.

The rural village where the team conducted its research is on the edge of a national forest and wildlife refuge, where women and girls trek each day to gather firewood for the traditional stone hearths, called chulhas.

Women in the rural area of Rajasthan, India, collect firewood from a nearby forest and wildlife preserve for daily cooking activities. Courtesy of H.S. Udaykumar and University of Iowa
Women in the rural area of Rajasthan, India, collect firewood from a nearby forest and wildlife preserve for daily cooking activities. Courtesy of H.S. Udaykumar and University of Iowa

The amount of wood harvested from the forest for cooking has devastated the habitat.

“That area used to have a lot of wildlife, including panthers and tigers,” Udaykumar says. “There are no tigers there now, and there are only six or seven panthers left in that whole forest.”

When using firewood to cook on the poorly ventilated and inefficient chulhas, which do not have chimneys, smoke and soot settles inside the home. Therefore, just as important as finding a way to decrease wood consumption, Udaykumar says, is decreasing the black carbon emissions, which are known to cause respiratory disease.

After failed attempts at getting villagers to use high-efficiency cookstoves made of metal, partly because of their $30 cost, researchers came up with the idea of a metal grate insert for the hearths the women use.

The insert, called Mewar Angithi, is made from a steel plate with air holes punched in it. The device costs about $1.

“It’s a glorified grate, really. And so it’s simple to make,” Udaykumar says.

The insert holds the burning wood above the ashes and allows air to flow under the fire, which increases its efficiency. 

About 2,000 of the inserts are in use at the present time, and additional research will take place in India this winter, Udaykumar said.

These findings are published in the journal Solutions.

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