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Environment & Poverty Times No. 5

Cooking on ethanol

By Fiona Lambe, Stokes Consulting Group/Gaia Association

Woman with her CleanCook stove in a low income neighbourhood, Addis Ababa.
(Photo: Firehiwot Mengesha, Deputy Managing Director, Gaia Association, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Worldwide, more than three billion people depend on solid fuels – including biomass – in order to meet their everyday cooking needs. Burning these fuels produces extremely high levels of indoor air pollution, exposure to which can lead to chronic respiratory illnesses: it’s estimated that such illnesses lead to about 1.6 million deaths around the world each year. The widespread dependence on such solid fuels in many poorer countries means that women and young girls who are usually responsible for cooking and fuel collection have little time for other activities, including education or finding sources of income generation.

In addition, the harvesting of fuel wood for cooking destroys fragile ecosystems, while the burning of traditional fuels releases greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change. Gaia Association, an Ethiopian NGO, is promoting locally produced ethanol as a clean alternative to traditional cooking fuels.

Ethiopia currently produces 8 million litres of ethanol annually from sugar cane molasses; a waste by-product of the state owned and managed sugar industry. Previously such residues were dumped in rivers due to the lack of any viable domestic market for the product. In the near future the Ethiopian government will begin fuel blending for the transport sector and plans are in place to expand national production capacity to nearly 130 million litres of ethanol by 2012. If this target is met, ethanol output will surpass local demand from the transport sector: it’s estimated that 128 million litres of ethanol will be produced in 2012 while the demand from the transport sector will only be 30 million litres. Given this supply scenario, the domestic and commercial cooking market will be the only local outlet for surplus ethanol.

A successful pilot test of the ethanol-burning CleanCook (CC) stove was recently carried out in 850 Ethiopian households. The CC stove, manufactured by Domestic AB of Sweden, is a non-pressurised, clean-burning alcohol stove, adapted for use in the developing world. The pilot study demonstrated that the CC stove is an appropriate technology for Ethiopian households in terms not only of health and safety but is also efficient, easy to use and cheap to run.

Those who used the CC stove reported that instead of spending time, as previously, on gathering wood for fuel and coping with inefficient cooking devices, many women were now able to investigate income generating activities. Local production of the stoves will soon begin, thereby reducing their cost to the average Ethiopian household. Since the stoves are clean burning, their large scale use will mean reduced indoor air pollution and emissions of carbon and greenhouse gases.

The Gaia Association and its partners have shown that in developing countries, such as Ethiopia, sustainably produced ethanol targeted at the household market has the potential to address many of the Millennium Development Goals.