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Solar Powered Cooking

9 April 2009 No Comment

I recently read an entry on Peter Gostelow’s blog regarding a calendar post and the monthly photo. As you can see the photo shows three young boys laden with wood, collected as fuel for the fire on which family meals are prepared.

Nepal boys

This photo got me thinking about sustainable development. As the world grows, and technology moves forward, basic human needs still remain. One of these is the need to cook food. According to one sustainable development charity, Forum For The Future, over two billion people worldwide rely on firewood as their primary fuel for cooking, the vast majority of these having little or no alternative fuel source.

Aside from the environmental impact of burning wood on a mass scale, below are a few humanitarian problems associated with the collection and use of firewood as fuel:

  • Burning firewood produces black carbon soot. This isn’t healthy to breathe. International development agencies estimate that more than 1.5 million people die young each year from avoidable respiratory ailments associated with cooking.
  • Collecting the firewood can take a significant amount of time, in a lot of cases this work is done by children, whose time could be better spent in school getting an education.
  • There are safety concerns in young women leaving villages in search of firewood, expalined in an extract from an article taken from Forced Migration
  • In hundreds of refugee … settings throughout the world, women and girls are made more vulnerable to sexual violence because of the almost daily need to leave camps in search of firewood. More can and must be done to reduce this risk.

    Women and girls trek for hours a day in the hope of finding a few branches or roots to burn. To avoid the midday sun, many leave in the darkness. To lessen competition, they travel alone or in very small groups. To find increasingly scarce combustible material, they may have to walk several kilometres away from the camps. In doing so, they become prime targets for the Janjaweed militia, local government or police forces and other men who act in a climate of almost total impunity.

    Source: http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR27/26.pdf

The impacts are not confined to humans. Dead standing and fallen timber provides crucial habitat for numerous species of animals and birds. It believed that the removal of this wood for firewood is contributing to a significant loss of wildlife. Dead wood plays an essential role in maintaining forest and woodland nutrient cycles. Scientists believe that dead wood is at least as important as living trees, fallen leaves and soil for the maintenance of ecological processes sustaining biodiversity.
(Source: Driscoll, D.A., Milkovits, G. and Freudenberger, D. (2000) Impact and use of firewood in Australia. CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems report to Environment Australia.)

As populations in Africa and Asia climb (as they are widely predicted to do) it is likely that using firewood as a source of fuel will be hard to sustain. Alternatives need to be developed, produced and implemented into the daily lives of the billions currently using firewood as fuel.

The FT Climate Change Challenge, a competition to find the best innovations to tackle climate change, has today announced that its $75,000 1st prize goes to the Kyoto Box, a cheap, solar-powered cardboard cooker.

According to the designer Kyoto Energy Ltd., Kenya, the simple design can be made in existing cardboard factories, flat-packed and easily distributed. It could halve firewood use, thereby saving trees and preventing carbon emissions.

Each box costs about 5 Euros to make, and can theoretically boil 10 litres of water in two hours. It is a simple design, consisting of two cardboard boxes and an acrylic lid.

Read more about the box here and here

Having lived in the Caribbean for over two years, I have come to realise the potential the sun has in generating energy, and how little we utilise that potential. My house has solar panels which produce all my hot water, however this system is limited. There is certainly room for technological improvements in both efficiency of collection of the sunlight and storage of the heat/power generated.

I have listed a few interesting articles below for readers to find out more about solar ovens and solar cooking;

How a solar cooker works

Solar Cookers International, a US based charity, explains the benefits of solar cooking

Review of a homemade solar oven similar in design to that of the Kyoto Box

Article on how solar cooking is saving lives in Chad and Darfur

Plans for you to build your own solar cooker

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