More than 3 billion people cook on wood and other solid fuels. The toxic smoke that results from these indoor cooking fires kills nearly 4 million people every year, most of which are women and children, and is one of the largest contributors to human-driven climate change. Although less costly than petroleum alternatives, solid fuel is not free. Families spend 2-4 hours per day collecting firewood and, in areas where wood must be purchased, it can account for 10-15% of their income.
Designed to address these issues, the BioLite HomeStove is an advanced, forced draft biomass cookstove that uses BioLite’s patented thermoelectric fan technology to reduce toxic indoor smoke by up to 90%, eliminate up to 2.5 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO¬2e) per stove each year, and provide users with the capability to charge mobile phones, LED lights, and other USB-powered electronics, generating direct economic returns through a combination of fuel savings and electricity generation.
The BioLite HomeStove also resolves the shortcomings of currently available cookstoves, offering unparalleled smoke reductions in an affordable, user-friendly design. A number of companies, including Philips and BP, have attempted to address the need for clean cookstoves among people living in poverty. However, none have created the combined economic incentives and health benefits necessary to drive large-scale adoption in the developing world. BioLite’s HomeStove is the only stove in the world to reduce toxic smoke emissions by 90% without reliance on external electricity sources or prepared fuels, enabling use in the off-grid areas where stoves are most needed. The HomeStove also provides families an affordable source of energy to charge mobile phones and LED lights. The BioLite stove is the only cookstove in the world capable of generating electricity from its own waste-heat. The stove is currently capable of producing between 2-3 watts of electricity during cooking, enough power to fully charge a mobile phone and provide an evening’s worth of light. The capacity to charge these devices can serve as the catalyst to widespread adoption throughout the rapidly expanding developing world markets – a value proposition that no other stove to date has been able to leverage.
BioLite has set a retail price of $40 for the HomeStove, based on substantial research on willingness-to-pay in rural and peri-urban India and Sub-Saharan Africa. We utilize a two-pronged approach for distribution. The primary channel is consumer retail sales, which we access through a range of partnerships with established local players. The secondary channel is institutional sales, which consists of sales to governments, multilaterals and NGOs for humanitarian situations and for world-class research on the social and environmental impact of the product. An elaboration of these two channels is provided in Question 3 below.
Each BioLite stove carries a 1-year warranty. The HomeStove is designed to operate maintenance free for the full warrantied life of the product, and the expected lifespan of each stove is 5 years. However, the stove is designed for easy field service, to prepare for the inevitable small maintenance needs on a minority of products. Critical parts are accessible by a minimally trained technician for easy trading of components without replacing the entire product. Maintenance is provided by our field distribution partners but supported by BioLite with parts, training and financial incentives for continued service.
BioLite is a multidisciplinary team of entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, anthropologists, and development economists committed to developing high quality products that address broad social needs. Together the team has well over 100 years of product development experience and holds more than 40 utility patents. Previous clients include OXO, Johnson & Johnson, Hewlett Packard, Nike, Lego, Church and Dwight, Pepsi, GE, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Motorola, and Bosch. More than 90% of our products have gone on to be successful in the market. Jonathan Cedar, co-founder and CEO, is responsible for project management as well as overall company administration. Jonathan has a passion for the company, and BioLite’s innovative technology and design. He comes from a consumer product development background at Smart Design, where he gained product design and marketing strategy experience directly relevant to the development and launch of BioLite. He has developed products ranging from housewares to biomedical devices, more than 90% of which have gone on to be successful in the market. He holds more than 15 utility patents for his various inventions. Alec Drummond, co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, leads the company’s product design and concept development efforts. Alec co-developed the original design with Jonathan Cedar in 2006. Bringing to the team 30 years of experience developing and testing innovative consumer products, Alec has guided BioLite’s product development to become the most efficient and clean stove in the industry. Dr. Ethan Kay is Managing Director of Emerging Markets, leading BioLite’s BoP Market entry strategy. Ethan leads BioLite’s emerging market entry strategy, including distribution partnership development and customer engagement. Since 2005, Ethan has designed and launched partnerships between corporations and NGOs in India and Bangladesh to give poor rural women access to sustainable livelihoods and villagers access to clean cookstoves. Ethan’s Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Oxford examined how to effectively structure and implement corporate-NGO clean cookstove distribution partnerships in India. He is Lead Technical Advisor on the World Bank’s ‘Global State of the Cookstove Sector’ report (forthcoming), as well as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’ India Market Assessment. He has recently contributed thought leadership on commercializing clean cookstoves through a TEDx talk and in Harvard Business Review (2013). He holds a Ph.D. in Management Studies and an M.Phil. in Politics (Comparative Government) from the University of Oxford, and a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
BioLite's current business model is to develop and manufacture ultra-clean stoves and work with partners already operating in target markets to retail the products to end-users.
BioLite is pursuing a two-pronged approach to the distribution of the HomeStove:
1) commercial retail sales
2) institutional sales
In the first approach, BioLite is commercially retailing its stoves to all consumer segments, including the rural poor. In the beginning of 2013, BioLite kicked off two large-scale marketing and sales pilots in India and Uganda with scaled local distributors that retail cookstoves and complementary consumer durables. In 2013, BioLite is deliberately capping production at 10,000 units in order to refine economic, social, and technical scaling obstacles to cookstove adoption before scaling.
Our second approach, institutional sales, consists broadly of two categories.
1) Non-market or special needs contexts, such as refugee camps and emergency / humanitarian relief situations. In these contexts, we will work with governments, multilaterals and NGOs.
2) Public health studies and global climate studies. For instance, BioLite is working in Ghana with Columbia University's School of Public Health to prove the pre-natal health benefits of the product. This program, backed by a $2.5 million NIH grant, is the largest cooking-related health study of its kind.
Through the aforementioned two-pronged approach, BioLite anticipates retailing 15.6 million stoves over the next nine years. By 2020, BioLite anticipates retailing approximately 5.5 million stoves per year, or 15.1% of global market share.
After completion of our current large-scale pilots, BioLite will deepen our relationships with our strategic channel partners, and expand our manufacturing output. By 2014, BioLite expects to reach 75,000 stove sales. In parallel, BioLite plans to develop new partnerships across throughout the developing world with rural distribution channels, carbon program developers, producer cooperatives, government and humanitarian relief programs.
Over the past two and a half years, BioLite has established proof of concept for the HomeStove through small pilots in India, Ghana, Uganda, and Guatemala, where it tested user acceptability, product reliability, performance, and willingness-to-pay (WTP). BioLite has integrated feedback from the pilots to ensure the HomeStove is a field-verified consumer product, going through a full 4 iterations of prototyping to arrive at our current design.
For example, several customers in Ghana indicated they preferred the open fire for cooking yams or using large pots. In response, we’ve enlarged the cooking surface and made the stove even sturdier so that users can vigorously stir large pots of stew without any risk of the stove toppling. Our pilots in seven states of India (Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, Bihar, and Orissa) confirmed the strong value users place on the HomeStove’s mobile charging and LED lighting capability, and users perceived the HomeStove substantially cleaner compared to the traditional wood stove and the rocket stove. Most participants also felt the HomeStove used less wood compared to the open fire and was easier to light and faster to cook with compared to basic rocket stoves. For instance, in Gujarat, we timed the cooking period for rotla (thick, flat bread, a local staple) prepared on the HomeStove compared to the open fire and a range of rocket stoves. The HomeStove was faster than the rocket stoves and the same time or less than the three-stone open fire. BioLite outperformed the rocket stoves in spreading the flame across the cooking surface, to enable even cooking of the rotla (i.e., the rocket stoves left the outer edges of the rotla uncooked).
However, BioLite underperformed relative to the open fire in this respect, thereby requiring the user to somewhat move around the rotla to ensure an even cooking process. In response, BioLite is developing a cooking attachment to spread the flame even wider for rotla preparation. In this same example, users were pleased that the clay tawa on which the rotla was prepared fit snugly on the top cooking surface. However, BioLite decided to increase the number of supports on the surface from 3 to 6 to enable pots to fit even more securely and to accommodate a wider range of pots reflective of our diverse target customer base. Similar tests and improvements have also been implemented on the stove’s exterior shell, height and handles. All of our markets reinforce the need for our HomeStove to satisfy a variety of cooking cultures and needs and our latest model reflects these inputs.
In addition to extensive field-based user-feedback testing, all of our models are rigorously tested in our rapid prototype lab in Brooklyn to understand a variety of factors: heat-flow, usability, burn time, charging capabilities, cooking capabilities, emissions and more. Our stove has recently been independent tested by the US EPA, whose findings have corroborated our own high-fidelity lab results.
The HomeStove has been designed for, user-tested by, and marketed to the over 275 million households in India and Sub-Saharan Africa that still use biomass for daily cooking and who fall victim to the deadly effects of indoor air pollution (IAP) (accounting for over 40% of the global addressable market for improved cookstoves).
As a mission-driven company, BioLite sees its role extended far beyond simply designing products that combat indoor air pollution. As a founding member of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), BioLite is an active voice in the global movement to raise attention to this health and environmental scourge, and was specifically recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October 2010 during her public announcement of the GACC. BioLite continues to work closely with the GACC to achieve their objectives, including the dissemination of 100 million clean cookstoves by 2020.
BioLite is also actively engaged in advancing the field of public health and environmental research surrounding clean cookstoves. BioLite currently, and will continue, to distribute our stoves to researchers studying topics like household air pollution and climate change.
For example, BioLite is currently supplying the Ghanaian Ministry of Health and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health with 900 HomeStoves to test the pre-natal health benefits of the product backed by $2.5 Million in funding the National Institute of Health - the largest cooking-related health study of its kind. The GACC has additionally funded a micro-pilot of 30 HomeStoves with Berkeley Air, a leading in-field emissions tester, to measure the real-use emissions of our stoves in rural households in Uganda. BioLite is also in the planning stage of supporting Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in India to measure in-field emissions and determine whether engaging women in a behavior change and empowerment program drives stove adoption.
Beyond this, BioLite is currently engaged in distribution discussions with over 200 local, experienced, clean energy retailers around the world, and is actively exploring carbon-backed distribution programs as a mechanism to reach remote, rural areas and drive affordability amongst the poorest of the poor.
Three billion people cook on smoky, fuel-inefficient, biomass fires. These fires also release toxic gases into living areas, producing indoor concentrations of CO and fine particulate matter (PM) that are 100x higher than those deemed acceptable by World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines. The toxic smoke that results from these indoor cooking fires kills four million people every year, an estimated 85% of which are women and children below the age of five.
While wood and solid biomass are less expensive than petroleum fuel alternatives, they have a significant economic cost to families either in hours of collection or cash for purchase. Solid fuel cooks also typically lack access to reliable electricity supply. 1.6 billion of them have no electricity whatsoever. These families are forced to purchase dirty, expensive kerosene for lighting. Explosive growth in rural mobile phone ownership further highlights the dramatic need for electricity. Between lighting and phone charging expenses, families typically spend $3-6 per month to meet their non-cooking energy needs.
By 2020, BioLite expects to reach approximately 78 million beneficiaries by retailing 15.6 million HomeStoves. The HomeStove, through its unique technology and business model, aims to revolutionize the clean cookstove movement and create mass adoption that yields several benefits:
- Bringing affordable on-demand electricity to off-grid communities: Families no longer have to walk miles to a nearby village to charge a cell phone or spend a disproportionate amount of their income on powering their mobile device to keep their local business running. Children can do homework and adults can work later at night thanks to a lit LED light.
- Creating long-term health benefits: Especially for women and children, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases related to indoor smoke can be drastically reduced with the use of the HomeStove.
- Create local economic opportunities: By building local distribution channels with local partners, especially with a focus on local women's groups, we are creating chances for the HomeStove to augment the local market, not compete with it. Furthermore by reducing wood consumption by 50%, hours spent gathering solid fuels are reduced, giving valuable time back to women who can use that to pursue small business or education.
- Fight climate change: Smoky, open cooking fires release more black carbon into the atmosphere than all the trucks and cars in the world. The HomeStove reduces black carbon, the second biggest cause of climate change, by three to six times more than other ‘improved’ cookstoves. Therefore, the BioLite HomeStove is not only improving the health of the users, it is also improving the long term health of the planet.
1) Product affordability, calculated by:
- (Retail cost + financing costs - fuel/electricity savings over 3 years)/(3-year household income)
2) Project Scale, measured by:
- Customer penetration: Number of households purchasing the stove
- HomeStove Sales Agent penetration: Number of agents trained to raise awareness of IAP
- Marketing reach: Total population reached by marketing messages
3) Larger societal impact, measured by:
- Environmental impact: (CO2 reduction per stove per year) x (life-time usage of the stove)
- Employment impact: Number of jobs created & total income generated for sales agents
- Household income impact: Cost savings + increase in household earnings from time savings
- Health impact: Reduction in respiratory illness and birth defects among women and children
- Female empowerment: Qualitative assessment based on: time use, income generation, educational activities, & observable outcomes of intra-household decision making (e.g., new filtered water products)
BioLite is a mission-driven company that not only combats indoor air pollution through the design and development of user-centric technologies, but also by helping to raise attention of this health and environmental scourge. BioLite's CEO, Jonathan Cedar, and Managing Director of Emerging Markets, Dr. Ethan Kay, are both actively engaged not only as practitioners, but also as thought leaders, with regards to combatting indoor air pollution. BioLite believes that the World Design Impact Prize will provide a crucial platform to continue to raise awareness among the world's leading designers, policymakers, corporate executives, civil society leaders, and academics with regards to the consequences of, and opportunities to reduce this global health and environmental scourge.
Indoor air pollution from open fire cooking kills as many people each year as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, and cuts across each of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Moreover, open fire cooking is the biggest contributor globally of black carbon, the second biggest contributor of climate change after CO2. However, despite the enormity of this health and environmental scourge, cookstoves receive very little attention or funding from the global community (e.g., currently, funding for AIDS is approximately 500x that of indoor air pollution). Through this high-profile recognition, BioLite aims to make the case that the devastating health impacts of toxic smoke merit commensurate attention and resources to that of other killers such as AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
One of the major societal barriers to clean cookstove adoption is that in much of the developing world, the wife does the cooking, and she and the children suffer disproportionately from IAP, but the husband controls the purchase decisions. BioLite has therefore paid specific attention to ensuring the stove appeals to both men and women. Specifically, the HomeStove resolves this intra-household purchasing dynamic by generating enough electricity to charge mobile phones, a feature men strongly value. As a result, husbands and wives are both on board with the purchase.
So many previous attempts at designing cookstoves for people living in poverty have failed precisely because they were not able to design a product that addressed these kinds of complex societal dynamics or that reflected the nuanced needs of users in a variety of cooking cultures.
Guided by these past failures, BioLite places ethnographic research and pilot-testing at the core of our work. As a result, through in-home research conducted in Guatemala, Ghana, Uganda, and India, we have met with hundreds of families and thousands of community members to understand their user needs, preferences, and values, and design a product that is reflective of these preferences (i.e., making a cooktop that can prepare flatbread in India and cook yams in Ghana). The kitchen is a central part of the home, especially in the developing world, and designing an appliance for this setting requires deep respect and localized understanding.
BioLite has been honored to receive several design and innovation awards for our cookstove technology, including the 2013 Public Interest Design Global 100, 2013 Core 77 Social Impact Design Award, 2012 Tech Awards Nokia Health Prize, 2012 Fast Company Innovation by Design Award, 2011 St. Andrews Prize for the Environment, the 2010 Vodafone Innovation Prize (jointly with UC Berkeley), and first place in the 2010 Sustainable Brands Innovation Open.