BioLite: Camp Stove with a Conscience

My friend Anthony L. trolls the internet at times and recently posted this gem on Facebook with the caption “I’ll take four.”  After looking at the Uncrate link and teaser about the camp-stove-meets-charger I looked deeper into the product’s history and design and was impressed to find a consumer product set to change lives worldwide.  I think I’ll take four myself!

The BioLite CampStove

BioLite is a technology and poverty alleviation company based out of New York City.  Designers Alexander Drummond and Jonathan Cedar met at Smart Design, a design consultancy association and began exploring sustainable designs for camping stoves that did not need petroleum or batteries.  The idea came to them to use the most common and available natural solid fuel for food cooking (wood) but make it more efficient.  Cedar’s interest in camping and experience in engineering quickly led to a prototype.

BioLite CampStove: charging an iPhone and cooking dinner...on twigs

The stove, weighing in at just 935 grams (2 lbs. 1 oz.), is ideal for camping for its weight and water bottle size.  Aside from the obvious advantages of having a small, portable, and efficient camp stove, the BioLite also offers a USB power supply (one plug) for your smart phone, GPS, light, or other electronic gadget.

Burning twigs, pinecones, pellets, and other biomass, the BioLite converts heat energy to electricity through carefully directed fans and an enclosed fire.  Each wood-burning fire produces approximately 5000 watts which the BioLite converts using a thermoelectric module, taking one watt to power a small fan, what they call a “combustion improvement system.”  The rest of the power is available to the USB charger.

With an open flame, the CampStove is good for roasting marshmallows and other fun campfire activities, but it also helps reduce carbon footprints!

Comparison chart for open fires, chemical/petroleum fires, and the BioLite stove (HomeStove version demonstrated).

Petroleum based fuels produce many damaging greenhouse gasses and open wood fires are inefficient in burning their fuel which also leads to toxic gasses.  By increasing the efficiency and combustion rate of natural wood, the BioLite CampStove creates a renewable, efficient, clean, and safe (dare I say “electrifying”?) cooking tool and electrical outlet handy for camping and emergencies.

BioLite CampStove sells for $129 US and will be available for shipping for the 2012 camping season.  Place an order.

The HomeStove: useful in the real world

So your green thumb conscience has been satisfied and convinced that the BioLite CampStove is a useful, clean, and efficient tool for when you backpack through Nepal or wherever else your adventures take you.  But what about application in the real world?  A stove that runs off wood, charges electrical devices, and is safe and healthy…

Nearly 3 billion people cook on open fires.  Half the world’s population uses solid fuel burning techniques, a technique already demonstrated as inefficient, dirty, and unsafe, to cook their food.  This leads to a significant impact on our environment as more and more trees are chopped down to be burned (50% of our forests are used for fuel, 75% in developing nations).  An increase in global warming is also attributed to “black carbon” which comes from burning wood and other solid fuels in inefficient open fires.

1.6 million deaths each year are attributed to smoke related diseases.  That is almost twice as many as deaths attributed to Malaria.

Humans are also affected in their health.  According to BioLite, 1.6 million deaths each year are attributed to smoke related diseases.  Many houses in developing nations are burned down because of household cooking fires, and many children are burned or killed by those fires.  In parts of the world where electricity is not readily available, fires can not be replaced or at least made efficient by electricity.

This map shows the areas of the world which use the most solid fuel cooking fires.

BioLite also produces a mass-market, “poverty alleviation” stove meant to be used by people in developing nations to increase fire efficiency, lower the impact on world wood resources, lower carbon footprints, and provide electricity for life-saving electrical devices like cell phones and lights.

In 2011 BioLite conducted limited field trials in communities in Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent.  Starting in mid-2012 they will be launching a much larger pilot program in India, Uganda, Ghana, and Kenya, studying how the HomeStove can improve and even save lives.  See selected field testing images here.

The BioLite HomeStove is claimed to use half the wood of an open fire and reduce harmful smoke emissions by 90-95%.

BioLite HomeStove Field Testing

In a larger format useful for large pots and family meals, the HomeStove will provide faster, more efficient, cheaper, and cleaner cooking methods for people in developing nations.

BioLite: The Business

BioLite’s website states that their mission is to create “a strong sense of responsibility not just to develop products that work well but also to create businesses that make a positive contribution to the global community.”

By taking a market-based method to poverty alleviation, the rocket stove format will help campers and outdoor enthousiasts who are in turn helping people in the developing world.  By not creating a charity, BioLite is using the CampStove to generate the capital needed to produce cheap stoves for people who need them.  They have also added the luxury of electricity, something we take for granted every day, to the lives of people who need cell phones and lights to survive.

There is no cost listed on the BioLite website for the HomeStove.

While the patent is pending on this design, the BioLite designers hold more than 30 utility patents for a variety of technology and manufacturing companies.

With socially motivated investors and a board of directors experienced in the manufacturing field, BioLite is a start-up which will have success.  They offer a quality product which has been thoroughly tested in the field where it will make its greatest impact.  By not rushing into production a stove which will not be used and doesn’t have a useful application, and by creating a business model where consumers of the CampStove feel justified and fulfilled in spending more for their unique and handy (and useful) new toy, both the CampStove and HomeStove will have a marked impact on their fields.  Those fields may not be similar, and one stove will be much more appreciated than the other, but both will help clean our environment, charge our electronics, and both will save lives in the developing world.

Learn more about BioLite HomeStove.  Make sure to explore the “about” section and see the friendly faces of the all the BioLite staff!

View the BioLite promotional video for the CampStove where the HomeStove and field testing are also explained, and answer my poll below:

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