Up to 2.8 billion people still prepare food on open pits, or ancient stoves, burning coal, wood, dung, or biomass. They get the job done, but a lot of the energy is lost as waste heat, when it could go towards cooking more efficiently.
A new start-up, now raising funds on Indiegogo, has an alternative: the Baker Stove, which has three times the thermal output, and reduces the fuel required for the same amount of cooking by two-thirds.
Like other new stoves for the developing world, the Baker could help reduce the harmful smoke people currently breathe in, and cut the time that people (particularly women) spend looking for wood, exposing themselves to theft and sexual violence in remote areas.
Designed in Sweden, the Baker has a simple, elegant design that achieves a maximum amount with cheap metals, and well-placed ventilation. But, in itself, the technology, some of which has been around for 30 years, is not earth-shattering. The real innovation is in the business model. The two founders, Lucas Belenky and Björn Hammar, have thought through many detailed aspects of manufacturing and distribution, and have a clever way to subsidize costs: the international carbon market.
Belenky, who lives in Nairobi, Kenya, says he was keen to make the product locally, to keep an eye on the process, and cut out shipping delays. Top Third Ventures, the company behind the stove, have one store currently, in Kenya, which serves an approximately 20 mile radius. And it gets the word out with "runners" on motorbikes, who show off a prototype and give away redeemable vouchers, assuring customers that a stove will be available if they turn up for one.
The product costs between $25 and $29 (depending on the exchange rate)—a fairly steep amount. But Belenky says it reflects the quality, and sets it apart from alternatives. "A lot of these products sell very cheaply, and they feel like aid products. We are staying very clear of that. This is something people want, and it will make their neighbors jealous."
Top Third captures data on every customer using a mobile app. That’s important because Belenky needs to prove each sale later. To finance the stove, he’ll apply for credits through the Clean Development Mechanism, a carbon offset program run by the United Nations. Each ton of CO2 the stoves take out of the atmosphere—they save about 2.5 tons a year—equates to a value on the international carbon market. At the moment, it’s about $7 a ton, perhaps more.
After Kenya, Belenky and Hammar want to expand to Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia, add stove fittings and variants, and offer their app and expertise to other ventures.
"We want to rent these services out to other companies doing cookstoves," Belenky says. "Our mission is not necessarily to promote only our product, because there are so many people who need a stove, and we know we can’t do all of them."
"We want to make sure everyone has access to a high-quality stove, whether it’s ours or not. We can make that happen with our carbon-credit program, smartphone app, and experience."