We all have important worries in our lives: the sharpness of our iPad display, the need for a light in the dishwasher, renewing our kitchen because of fashion reasons—but still 4 billion people on the planet need to get by on less than $2.00 a day. An old phrase for that is "Bottom Of the Pyramid," used since the 1930s, amongst others by Roosevelt. For these consumers manufacturers have to come up with different products, not cheap versions of existing first-world designs, who mostly still will be too expensive and not suitable to the specific needs of the poorer customer. The cell phone banking systems in Africa are an example; through SMS poor users now can have a bank account in locations where there are no banks at all, using the cheapest cell phones. These systems are also perfect for microcredit.
One of the most pressing problems for poor countries is indoor open fire cooking. For Western consumers it might look like a romantic campfire, but in reality it is a burden. It causes several health problems and takes up valuable time of mostly women and girls, not to mention deforestation because of excessive wood use. There are estimations that about 1.5 million people die of smoke-related causes.
Since a few years two familiar companies have been working on this on a non-profit basis. The Philips Design department in the Netherlands designed a low-cost stove called Chulha, and BSH Munich developed a plant oil cooker named Protos.
Chulha is an ultra-cheap mini-stove with a chimney that can use wood, dung or biomass, and allows for two pots thanks to a clever design. Philips offers the design for free, including molds for the concrete parts, for local production. The parts are "glued" together with clay. The air flows sideways, and heats a second plate to the boiling point. There are two models: the Saral, for $12.00, and the Sampoorna for $16.00, which includes a matching rice cooker. Indoor air pollution is reduced by about 90 percent, it uses about half the fuel, and cooking time is shortened up to 1.5 hours per day. The chimney consists of two pipes and a connector for easy cleaning. In many cases the chimney can be mounted from inside the house. Because Chulha is constructed out of smaller parts, you don't need a car or lorry for transport.
Bas Griffioen is program manager for Philips Design. "Philips contributed the design, where as production and distribution must be done locally. Our goal is to provide a framework for sustainable design on which other parties such as NGO's can assist local entrepreneurs and consumers. The design is free for everybody to use. We learned that local participation is the only way these kind of projects can succeed.
"The current version is the third redesign. We worked hard on the airflow, added a bypass and through an air split there are two plates, where the secondary plate still can reach the boiling point—quite unique. The Sampoorna has an extra, tight-fitting metal rice steamer. You can use the molds to pour concrete into, and the modular design allows for easy production and transport. A typical way to finance the $20.00 price tag for purchase and installation is $5.00 cash, $5.00 micro-financing and the other $10.00 through sponsoring. This makes consumers more involved in the product." Philips maintains an excellent website on all matters regarding Chulha : lowsmokechulha.com.
Protos: Plant Oil Cooker From BSH
BSH choose another, more radical path: plant oils as fuel. Until now this has not been done before, mainly because of technical difficulties. Plant oil is much less flammable compared to oil-bases fuels (burning point above 200°C), and you need special burners and a preheating system. BSH spent years in designing the burners, wherein preventing clogging by particles in the oil was one of the main problems. You need to pre-heat the burner with a bit of alcohol; after that the fuel is preheated in the burner itself. The fuel tank must be pressurized because the high viscosity of most plant oils.
The main advantage of Protos is the possibility of local fuel production. There are several oil types which are easy to produce, with plants that can't be used as food or can grow in difficult circumstances. And you need less foreign currency for oil imports. Though of less concern for poor people, the system can be carbon-neutral. In countries where a lot of food is fried, you could use the fry oil as fuel later on.
Just as the Chulha concept, Protos needs local support and that has been a challenge. Cooking habits do not change easily, and is not always easy to find entrepreneurs to set up the system of oil production and Protos production. At the moment there is a production line for Protos in Jakarta, Indonesia.