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Hoskin family: Cooking up a solution to third world health and emissions problems

Back from Nepal and in the final stages of the prototype

by Dawne Belloise

Brice Hoskin’s wife, Karen, claims that he has to always have something that he’s designing, inventing, creating, or making. “We call them Brice Devices,” Karen laughs. Together, Brice and Karen produce award-winning batches of rum as Montanya Distillers on Elk Avenue.

But in his latest endeavor, Brice, the innovator, has cooked up an entirely different project to help with disease-causing smoke emissions from cookstoves in third world countries.

Initially, the idea grew from Brice’s weekly backpacking trips into the wilderness when carrying butane fuel for his camp stove seemed inefficient and burdensome, instead of having a lightweight stove that used the abundance of dead wood lying around the campsite.

He had tried wood stoves that were already on the market but they were expensive and very heavy. As he was hiking out of Utah’s Dark Canyon with a pumpkin-sized hefty stove, Brice was wishing the thing was lighter-weight, had higher heat output, folded flat and cost a lot less. Last April, he started building his original concept—an affordable, lightweight stove that burns wood efficiently with far less pollution. He calls it the Ganesha Cookstove and his new company is PureFlame.

Brice explains that smoke from cook-fires kills more people than the top three viruses combined. Three billion people in the world still cook using solely wood. And of those, more than two billion cook on open fires every day with very few utilizing any sort of chimney.

Brice saw the need for a better stove and began prototyping various efficient designs, then improving them based on the results of testing the stove. The stoves are in the final stages of prototyping, almost ready for the next phase of starting a Kickstarter campaign and subsequent distribution. Brice hopes non-profits will take notice–those who are concerned about carbon emissions, early infant mortality due to smoke inhalation, deforestation or are interested in gaining the carbon credits–and then will commit to funding or placing the first big order to get the project rolling.

 

“People have been trying to design efficient cookstoves for third-world countries for the past 40 years,” Brice says. “There are a number of efficient cookstoves out there but no one’s been able to design one that is actually cheap enough for the three billion people who need it. The idea is to take a high-tech design and combine it with low-cost manufacturing. The target price is under $10. And it should fit into a legal-size envelope.”

Taking the prototype to Nepal

Brice started his campaign in Nepal last month, traveling to Brabal, in the Langtang region, with Karen, their two sons and 35 stove prototypes (each packed into a FedEx envelope) for the population of a village completely destroyed by last April’s earthquake. In a lower village, only 20 miles from the epicenter of the temblor, they witnessed the remains of a glacier that calved off during that quake, crashing into a lake whose displaced water caused a massive landslide and demolished the entire village. At Brabal, above the demolished village, every one of the residents lost their home. Fortunately, no one was killed because they were all outside when the noon-time quake hit. They helplessly watched their world and homes being shaken apart and falling down around them.

Brice raised $15,000 in both large and small donations for the first stage of his stove project. The funds covered production of the prototype and the fabrication of all 35 stoves, including distribution and testing, with some funds left over for further testing and production.

Because wood smoke is a serious health and pollution concern in Nepal, the government there supports an efficiency, safety and emissions testing lab in Kathmandu. The formal lab testing costs 30,000 rupees, or $300 U.S. Brice explained that his stove’s gasification has been tested as efficient, because of a design that circulates secondary air to burn smoke and carbon monoxide. Their design also did well on efficiency and carbon monoxide tests.

The trip to Brabal was prearranged through a non-profit called Atmosfair (an intentional play on words) based in Germany, which deals in carbon credits, specifically through the airfares collected from plane ticket sales. Atmosfair works in Nepal and since more efficient cook stoves can generate carbon credits by using less wood and having lower emissions, Brabal was a match as a project PureFlame could donate to.

The Hoskin team was then introduced to Temba, Atmosfair’s Nepalese guy on the ground. Born in Brabal, Temba owns a trekking company that guides mostly groups of Germans around Nepal. Temba became the spokesman and leader in collecting donations to rebuild his village, successfully raising the 8,000 euros for each villager to rebuild their home, and additionally, raising funds to send the village kids to school in Kathmandu since most of the schools in area were destroyed.

It isn’t easy in the third world

Brice tells that the major expense for families in this area of Nepal is sending their children to school. Since the local schools are a daily two-hour walk each way, most parents choose to send their kids to Kathmandu where education is far better and the schools were rebuilt quickly after the quake because the city received the lion’s share of the rebuilding funds. Schools there include food and board and cost families $700 a year, which may not seem like much—however, a common laborer’s wage runs about $5 a day.

Brice notes, “These are people who have little cash, and fewer ways to make that cash. It would be very hard to come up with the funds to rebuild their houses and then come up with funds to send their children to school.”

The stoves that were taken to Brabal were cut by lasers in Portland but Brice’s initial idea was to manufacture them in Nepal using metal stamping. Unfortunately, there appear to be no metal stamping machines in all of Nepal. The Nepalese can hand-cut the stoves, to keep the cost down, so Brice is thinking about revising the design so it can be made by hand.

courtesy photo
courtesy photo

“I have two options,” he says. “I can simplify the design to be hand-cut or I can manufacture it out of the country.” However, the import taxes are hefty, even to bring in something that would help the earthquake victims or improve the lives of those millions. Plus, electricity is at a premium there. Brice describes the “rolling power cuts” throughout the entire country, noting that only the Kathmandu industrial park has guaranteed electricity, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week. And that’s seasonal since Nepal’s energy is generated from hydroelectric, which is dependent on the monsoons filling up the reservoirs.

Another notion is for PureFlame to actually buy a metal stamping machine, possibly from India, and ship it to Kathmandu. The machines can cost as little as $5,000 but again, the import tax, as it currently stands, would triple that cost, and there’s the expensive shipping for a machine that weight and size. The good news is that Nepal is now looking at the possibility of eliminating the import tax for cookstove–related imports by NGOs (non-governmental organizations, essentially, non profits).

Brice says although there are all these different efforts by various organizations and projects to get cookstoves out there, the movement is very far from reaching its potential, because there are still three billion people with a lot a health problems who are cooking in smoky, hazardous conditions.

“My experience is that every mom would love a kick-ass, low-cost stove, which doesn’t exist yet.”

 

Part of our project is to get to the point where we have a highly efficient stove that fits the bill for everyday use. It’s going to take responsive design, and money, and my time, and I do have a full time day job,” Brice smiles, but he keeps pushing the wheel.

Karen nods in agreement and adds that as soon as they got to the airport to return to Crested Butte, Brice plugged in and started researching how to incorporate the Brabal clan’s feedback, along with the testing done in the Kathmandu lab, into changes in the stove’s design. She recognizes the wide scale benefit these stoves could have. “Imagine if these stoves had been manufactured, packed flat and easily distributable when the earthquake hit. And thinking about other countries and situations like the Syrian refugee camps, because you can burn dung, pine cones, leaves, twigs, just any sort of biomass,” she says.

Support across the board

Brice has had much support from many experts in various fields. He says, “I’ve been able to build up this great network of advisors, people at Colorado State University, locals, U.S. EPA, the American Himalayan Foundation, researchers at the Kathmandu testing lab and I’ve been in conversations with different non-profits doing work with cookstoves all over the world. Everyone’s been so supportive.” The project’s local fiscal sponsor is Community Foundation for the Gunnison Valley (CFGV.org/pureflame).

Perhaps the Hoskins’ greatest reward was the reaction of Brabal villagers, which was nothing short of amazement that people would come so far to give them stoves for free. The family was honored in a very traditional Nepali thank you ceremony. The village leader, their Lama, and Temba, each adorned the family with colorful scarves, placing them around their necks, followed by a rakshi ceremony. “The Lama blessed the rakshi, their locally made spirit that they distill themselves from apples and barley wheat,”

Karen smiles at the memory and as a distiller herself admired their process. “It was very cool for us to watch them distill their rakshi. We all took offerings of it, drinking it out of hands, and we gave each person a stove and taught them how to use it. There was a lot of ceremony as to how the stoves were given and how they were received. Lots of thanks and gratitude.” Both Brice and Karen pointed out that the people of Brabal didn’t need to be taught how to use a Ganesha cookstove, and indeed could make a far better fire than Brice. “They are masters of fire.”

For more information on the Ganesha Stoves and to make donations, and also the upcoming Kickstarter, visit CFGV.org/pureflame. 

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