In developing nations around the world, almost three billion people endanger their health by using mud stoves and indoor open fires. It’s a phenomenon that causes millions of deaths each year, which is why a handful of intrepid designers and engineers have created alternative solutions in recent years.
Greenway Grameen Infra, an India-based startup begun by student entrepreneurs, has a product that has already caught on in its native country: the Greenway Smart Stove, an efficient single-burner cookstove that generates 80% less smoke than traditional cookstoves, and uses 65% less fuel.
Greenway Grameen Infra just received the $50,000 grand prize in the annual Intel Global Challenge at UC Berkeley, a business plan competition for ideas that can make society better, for its ideas. Co-founder and CEO Neha Juneja tells us that she first started thinking about stove solutions after traveling through a rural Indian village. "We stopped by a household, a typical rural household. It had a TV, motorbikes, three mobile phones, and a traditional mud stove. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity. Rural does not mean poor and yet they didn’t have a good solid option," she says.
Unlike the popular thermoelectric BioLite Stoves, the Greenway Smart Stove features an air-flow generator that provides clean combustion. "We would typically employ a fan, but [access to] power is a complication. The challenge was to not use any power and not use any moving parts but pump air into the stove," explains Juneja. "Our stove performs better than an electric fan stove." The stove can run on all sorts of biomass, including wood, cow dung, and agricultural waste.
It may perform better, but the $23 Smart Stove isn’t affordable for all Indian families. "A lot of people are willing to pay that price. But it’s not something the poorest of the poor can pay for," admits Juneja. Nonetheless, Greenway has sold 12,000 units since the company piloted the stove in select Indian states last December. There is clearly a need and a market for the product, which is sold through local mom and pop stores (India has one shop for every 90 people, according to Juneja).
The Intel prize money will go to "getting the stove out in the market as soon as we can," says Juneja. But the Greenway team isn’t stopping there: It’s now working on a second stove model—a thermoelectric one that will compete with the BioLite. With so many people still using dangerous traditional stoves, there’s a big enough market for everyone.