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Research / Discovery

CSU studies cookstoves' impact on climate

May 16, 2014
By Jeff Dodge

Researchers at Colorado State University are using a $1.5 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the atmospheric effects of smoke from cookstoves, which are used by 3 billion people worldwide for heating, lighting and cooking.

Christian L'Orange, left, and John Volckens in the new cookstove lab at the Powerhouse Energy Campus.“About half of the world’s population wakes up and starts a campfire in their kitchens to keep their families warm and fed,” said John Volckens, the study’s lead investigator and director of the CSU Center for Energy Development and Health. “Eventually, it all goes up in the sky, and we inhale it too.”

Researchers hope to understand whether atmospheric pollution could be markedly lessened by reducing the use of biomass cookstoves. They also want to gauge how much of a reduction in cookstove use might be needed to cause a meaningful impact on climate change.

“How clean is clean enough?” Volckens asked.

The three-year project, titled, “Quantifying the climate, air quality and health benefits of improved cookstoves: An integrated laboratory, field and modeling study,” will involve laboratory testing of cookstove emissions, field visits to four developing nations where cookstove use is common, and atmospheric modeling based on data collected.

Previous studies

Previous studies, including several conducted by CSU in countries like India, Nicaragua and Honduras, have examined the negative health effects of cookstove smoke on a household’s members. This study will take a much broader view.

For three weeks in August, Volckens and his team will gather an array of cookstoves and, along with other experts in airborne emissions, will analyze the smoke from about 30 stove-and-fuel combinations. Hundreds of combinations will be examined before the project concludes.

Researchers also will also travel to Honduras, Kenya, India and China to study stove use. In these and other developing nations, cookstove fuels commonly include wood, garbage, charcoal, corn stalks, rice husks and animal dung, depending on availability and cultural norms, said Christian L’Orange, a post-doctoral fellow in the CSU Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.

Mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Kelsey Bilsback pours kerosene into a cookstove during a lab test at the Powerhouse Energy Campus.From this unprecedented emissions inventory, Assistant Professor Jeff Pierce of the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science will model how changes in cookstove use would affect the climate. For example, one model will examine what would happen if a large percentage of biomass cookstoves was replaced with clean-burning stoves fueled by natural gas.

The scope of the project’s emissions inventory and modeling work will allow researchers to address the question, “What would happen in the world if we were to change?” said Morgan DeFoort, CSU Energy Institute managing director and a co-investigator.

Other partners

Partners in the interdisciplinary research represent the CSU colleges of Engineering and Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; others are from the Berkeley Air Monitoring Group, the EPA Office of Research and Development, and Carnegie Mellon University Department of Mechanical Engineering.  

Also collaborating is Envirofit International, a CSU spinoff that manufactures clean-burning stoves and began in the university’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory