Himalayan Rocket Stove & Smokeless Cookstove Revolution
Since the last update I’ve been back to India for another round of moving the projects forward. In a snapshot, this is what’s been happening:
Himalayan Rocket Stove
- For the first 2 weeks I was based in Manali living with Tanzin in his family house working on design tweaks based on feedback we were receiving from the units that were out in the field. There were some key points that we wanted to address and we needed to work on the stove in a real family context to make sure the improvements were actually going to work. This was a very productive period with Tanzin and I making a large number of design modifications that will vastly improve the new stove. These are listed as follows:
- Reduce the height of the stove to make it more usable for women making chapati (flat bread) from a seated on the ground position. We managed to bring the height down quite dramatically.
- Improve the fire starting system by making a gate valve on the exhaust that allows for easy airflow during the start up phase of lighting the stove. This reduces back smoke into the room.
- Change the wood feed from a J-curve small stick feeder to a larger batch box that will take larger sized wood. This was a key item of feedback which made sense when I was up there in the mountains. Even though the stove only needs small wood to operate, and was working quite well with the small stick feeder, the reality is that people have already stock piled large amounts of larger wood which they were concerned would not fit into the old feeder. Now we have adjusted the design to a large batch feeder where larger wood can be loaded and the stove will certainly burn for longer without needed extra attention, so there are various benefits to this new design.
- The whole concept of various size models is now changed to a modular system. This means that the base stove is the same for most of the options, and various modules such as hot water tank, phone charging, pellet feeder, height extension, etc can all be added as modular add-ons. This makes the initial stove much more versatile and better value for those who want to try it out before committing to the various modules.
- A lot of heat was being directed down to the floor which was causing issues. We have now integrated a natural hot air convection system that will channel that hot air into the room without any moving parts.
- After the time in Manali, I travelled back down to Chandigarh and there the 3 directors (Tanzin, Chozang and I) met to set up the bank account for the company. These kinds of administrative details are very complex in India and take quite a lot of time and massive amounts of paperwork, so we were pleased to be able to get an account opened with HDFC while we were all together.
- An additional factory has been found that specialises in CNC production, which is an amazing step up from the previous option that involved a lot of manual handling of the steel material. This means that we can now produce stoves at a far higher quality, at far higher volumes, and for less cost. We are now in the process of getting the new design drawn up on AutoCAD so the factory can start producing test batches for us.
- The process of signing up with Indian investors was taking too long, so I put out an email to some selected contacts and have now raised the necessary funds for ongoing production from a private contact as a loan. This was very graciously offered by the donor of the original grant I received last year from the Dykes Family Charitable Trust. Thanks to those of you who offered to get involved in an equity stake. At this stage we have chosen to not go down that path due to the complexity and not needing the additional funds at the moment.
- There are various factors that are working in our favour at the moment with regards to production:
- The new CNC factory will be able to scale up production far quicker than we previously thought possible
- We have requests for stoves from villages that are not road connected, so its hard for them to get bottled LPG gas, and they burn wood all year for cooking. This means that we now have an all year round market for the stoves, rather than just a winter based seasonal market.
- We have found there is a willingness to pre-order stoves based on a 50% down payment which will help our cash flow for scaling up production.
- While in Chandigarh we met with our App developer and refined the concept of the Himalayan Rocket Stove app which is currently in development. This will do the following:
- Provide a tracking point for customers when they order a stove
- Be a portal for us to communicate directly with our customers
- Offer instant feedback and social share options
- Track the user’s warranty details
- Offer instructional info and vids
- Offer payment gateways for the users to make payments for orders.
- Provide an easy mechanism for the user to order more stoves as an affiliate based system, empowering every owner of a stove to be an agent to sell stoves to their own networks, massively increasing our effective marketing reach.
- The app will also have a distributor log in for those who approve as HRS distributors who are able to order in bulk at wholesale rates. This will give access to stock levels in the warehouse and various other options.
- And finally it will have admin user login with full access to payment, stock and user details.
- This app will effectively be a full business management system enabling us to track our stock, our customers and the financials of the business.
- A meeting with an IP protection legal firm was also had, with lots of advice on this issue. We are still deciding whether to pursue any IP protection as its a costly process and the benefits in our case seem somewhat dubious.
Smokeless Cookstove Revolution
- After all the admin work in Chandigarh, the team headed to Delhi to run a “Train the Trainer” workshop for the Smokeless Cookstove Revolution. In the process of training up a new batch of SCR trainers we managed to advance the concept of making cost free stoves by literally using only what we could find within easy walking distance of our location. We dug clay out of the ground, found grass clippings and other biomass lying around nearby, used plastic bottles in the rubbish as molds for the donuts, and demonstrated conclusively that the smokeless cooking stoves can be made for no cost.
- Workers on the property that was hosting our workshop came to see what we were doing and were genuinely amazed and determined to use the ideas we were sharing in their own villages. This again confirmed the value of this project.
- We were very fortunate to receive funding for this project from a private donor in Australia, which is enabling us to expand the operations and do the necessary things to make the project fully legal as an entity in India.
- We have employed a marketing team to help us communicate the essence and details of this project to a wider audience. One of the team, Gopal, came from Mumbai to attend the workshop. He and his team have been busy since putting together a media strategy with various branding and logo ideas which can be seen on the new facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/SmokelessCookstoveRevolution/
- Nitisha has been talking to various organisations about rolling out the workshops and we are in the process of scheduling workshops with GlenMark Pharmaceuticals who is going to fund workshops in the Indoor region near their factories. The first of these will be in late June.
- The Kanha Tiger Forest reserve has invited us back for a follow up workshop which is scheduled for late May. Tanzin will be taking 2 of the new trainers with him on this trip.
- Various other groups and NGO’s are requesting workshops, and these are being scheduled according to availability.
- As part of tracking the effectiveness of these workshops we are now implementing a multi staged assessment strategy that will allow us to see what the short and medium term efficacy of this project is.
- The tentative structure/branding for the projects is something like this:
- Himalayan Rocket Stove is a Private Limited company incorporated in Chandigarh.
- This company has a Foundation called (tentatively) the “HRS Foundation”
- The Foundation runs various projects in a not for profit format, one of them being the Smokeless Cookstove Revolution
- The Smokeless Cookstove Revolution has a Hindi byline: Dhuan Hatao, Zindagi Bachao (Remove Smoke, Save Lives) and an English byline: Clear the Smoke!
For those who are new to these updates, previous updates can be found on the blog linked here: http://himalayanrocketstove.com/blog/