It wasn’t until after they’d built their clean-burning stove that BioLite co-founders Jonathan Cedar and Alexander Drummond realized it was suited for something other than camping. Many people in India, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana cook over an open flame. That’s toxic and inefficient. “Four million people are dying every year from smoke inside of their home,” says Cedar. “That should go to zero.” Cedar and Drummond built a stove that uses less than half the fuel and produces 90 percent less toxic emissions than a traditional open fire.
To get their stove to burn wood nearly as clean as gas, the flame needed more oxygen. They employed a thermoelectric generator to convert heat from the fire into electricity. That electricity powered a small fan that pulled in the extra oxygen. The fan didn’t require much power, so the team added an outlet for people to tap into the leftover electricity to charge cellphones or power lights. BioLite believes its stoves can help solve energy poverty. To do so at scale, BioLite employs what it calls parallel innovation. Its camping stoves, solar panels, lighting, and other products generate near-term revenue, which the company reinvests into its emerging markets business to ensure that, over time, it can self-sustain.
Here are some interesting nuggets we learned when talking with Cedar …
- Smoke from open fires contributes to more deaths than HIV, Malaria, and Tuberculosis combined.
- In India, 80 percent of residential energy comes from burning wood.
- The amount of CO2 saved per year by one stove equals the amount saved by buying a hybrid car.
- Half the planet cooks over open fires.
- Energy can cost people in developing markets 30 percent of their income. On average, women in those markets spend 10 hours a week collecting that fuel.
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