Roughly half of the World’s population (3 billion+ people) currently rely on Biomass, mostly wood, as fuel for heating and cooking. In developing countries, over 80% of the wood consumed is used for fuel.
In some areas, as much as half the wood consumed is converted to charcoal. Charcoal is easier to transport, burns without smoke and produces a hotter fire than an open wood fire, so many cooks prefer it. And charcoal production is a source of income for rural residents close to the forests.
But charcoal production efficiencies are generally low, with as much as 60-80% of energy in the wood lost. Adding to this loss is the poor efficiency of many charcoal stoves, some as low as 3%! So charcoal production puts a severe burden on forests both before and after the cook fire is lit.
The cost is substantial, especially in the DRC. By 2030, 58% all forest degradation in DRC will be due to the harvesting of fuel wood. The DRC tries to limit wood harvesting. Charcoal producers push back. Because the DRC is trying to save areas like the Virunga National Park for the mountain gorillas, charcoal producers view the gorillas as competition. Poaching–murdering gorillas–is common.
There is no practical alternative to wood for fuel in many areas, so the challenge is to make the burning of wood more efficient. Improved wood-burning cookstoves have in many instances persuaded cooks to switch from charcoal back to wood, saving much of the energy lost in charcoal production. Improved charcoal-burning cookstoves can improved efficiency dramatically, reducing demand for charcoal production. Both these approaches save forests.
The improved cookstoves needed for this effort must be inexpensive, so they must be made locally in large numbers of consistent quality to ensure the savings intended.
BURN Design Lab is in the forefront of this work.