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Himalayan Rocket Stove Update – September 2016

Ok… so lots has happened since arriving in India and settling into Leh after the Heartsongs in the Himalayas retreat which kept me busy through most of August.

HRS in Ladakh

I’ve had quite a few meetings with various people about the Himalayan Rocket Stove. As a result of talking to locals here in Ladakh I have found there is tremendous interest in efficient wood stoves, in spite of increasing usage of gas and electricity for heating. Both of these latter options are considered expensive and unreliable.

Almost without exception, everyone I talk to about this project is immediately captivated. It’s a universally desired goal in Ladakh to be able generate heat efficiently. The idea that a single stove can offer heating, cooking and hot water is not entirely new (there is one other stove maker in Ladakh offering something similar, but not in an efficient format, nor pollution free).

Organic Festival in Ladakh

A local contact (Zubir) who is passionate about all things ‘eco and organic’ recently organised an Organic Festival to showcase the people and products in the region that are… ‘eco and organic’! (and eco). HRS was invited to participate, and although I didn’t have time to set up a display, I made a donation to support the festival and as a result the Himalayan Rocket Stove project was featured in all the advertising and media around this event. I was interviewed by a national television channel on site, and apparently there are government ministers who are waiting to see a demonstration of the stove in action.

Manufacturing in Ladakh

There is keen interest in Ladakh to test the manufacturing process here, and so I’ve been in talks with various parties about the options for producing the units in Ladakh as opposed to the original plan of producing in Chandigarh. I’ve now settled on working with LEDeG (Ladakh Ecological Development Group) who have a long track record of working on eco-technology in the region, and who have offered to use of their large workshop space and several staff.

I have taken on 3 staff from LEDeG and will be getting another 1 as part of the workshop deal, additional to Tenzin who is already working with me as an assistant. We are in the process of setting up the workshop space with suitable equipment and production systems.

Test Production in Ladakh

The benefits of doing the test production in Ladakh are many, and seem to outweigh the cons. These are:

  1. Initial production in Ladakh will allow me to test the units in the field personally ( I’ll be using one in my own accomodation as the weather cools, as well as getting the first few units into the homes of local friends who will immediately report on their efficacy). This will allow for ongoing refinements in the design for subsequent units as they are produced.
  2. Non-centralised production allows for the design to be tailored to the local region thereby maximising local acceptance and usage. This has become quite a significant factor having found that each region of the Himalayas has its own distinctive style and usage habits.
  3. Local production creates employment in regions that need more employment.
  4. Being in Ladakh for this period allows me to pursue 2 additional project options that will be explained below.

The downside is that manufacturing equipment in Leh is basic and in some cases not available. As a result I’ve just spent the last 2 days in Delhi procuring the necessary equipment to supplement what the LEDeG workshop already offers.

I am confident that by the end of September when the sheet metal folding unit arrives (currently being made specifically to our requirements), we will be able to get into full production through October. In the meantime, we will be able to work on the various models in prototype format. With the plasma cutter I brought back from Delhi, we’ll be getting into cutting up all the various steel sheets into appropriate sizes to be ready to go directly into production cycle.

Other Rocket Stove Projects

  1. Barrel Rockets and Workshops for Free

While on retreat in August I managed to find the time to experiment with an alternative rocket stove concept using local clay and an abandoned fuel barrel. Local clay of high quality is also widely available for negligible cost. I found that it is quite easy to make a barrel rocket stove suitable for heating larger buildings using these basic ingredients. These will appeal to an entirely different demographic (schools, nunneries, monasteries, community halls, etc) for the primary use of heating only.

As a result in the overwhelming interest in rocket stoves locally, I’ve decided to also run workshops for locals on how to build these barrel stoves, with a view to training up workshop leaders who will be able to go and run additional workshops in their respective regions. The benefits of barrel rocket stoves is immediate with an almost nil cost and can have a profound effect on those regions that are suffering due to severe cold for many months of the year. Children in schools in particular will benefit greatly from warmer classrooms.

I am hoping to raise additional funding to be able to pay some of these trainers to be able to travel region by region running workshops and building barrel rocket stoves in schools, nunneries and monasteries throughout the Himalayas. I estimate that approx $5,000A per year would fund a full-time trainer to do this.

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  1. Plastic Burning Rockets

Additional to this I have also conceived of the possibility of designing a rocket stove to burn plastic safely. This is possibly the most exciting new project on the drawing board. I’ve been researching the temperature requirements of plastic combustion, and am currently waiting to hear back from a professor who specialises in plastics to make sure that the combustion process will be clean and safe, but so far initial indications are that this is very possible. The implications of turning waste plastic (currently littering every stream and roadside though the mountains) into a free source of energy is immense. Further research and testing will ensue, with updates as I progress this project.

Stay tuned for more updates… this was a big one to catch up with the progress over the last 2 months, next update will be sooner.

 

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