Himalayan Rocket Stove (HRS) Project Update – October 2016
September has been an incredibly productive month for the project, with a lot of progress on multiple fronts. I’ll step through the various aspects in bullet point:
- Having decided to change the plan for production from a large industrial city like Chandigarh to the far smaller regional city of Leh, Ladakh, I had to find a suitable production facility to make this possible. After pursuing a number of leads I eventually settled on LEDeG (Ladakh Ecological Development Group) for a number of reasons.
- It has a large workshop with solar passive heating so it would be comfortable to work in as the weather got colder
- It had a nunber of metal working machines that would be useful
- It was largely free of other projects, and the 2 permanent staff were available to work on the HRSP almost full time
- The LEDeG vision and direction is totally in keeping with the goals and objectives of our own, so it feels like a good fit.
- After meeting the director and the workshop manager, we came to an agreement which is spelt out in an MOU, the basic outline being that for the rest of 2016, the HRSP would cover all costs to utilise their workshop facilities and staff in order to prototype and test production in Ladakh, with a view to developing a joint venture social enterprise in the coming year if all goes well.
- Now into the first week of October, we are in full production mode, aiming to make 10 units this week. So far, the team has been great and working very hard to achieve this goal.
- We are still testing the viability of clay tubes versus stainless steel in the burn tube, and will likely end up producing a number of each for field testing (aiming for 100 of each, but that depends on getting SS up to Ladakh).
- We are also working on various design tweaks for the feed tubes that incorporate simple construction and efficient combustion. We’ll likely end up with a number of variations to test in the field over winter.
- Finding suitable exhaust pipe (flue) is a bit of an issue, so we are looking into rolling our own.
- The purpose-built sheet metal folding machine that we had ordered specially from Delhi is being held up, and now it looks like it might not be worth getting made due to the risk of the road closing. This was the risk of moving production to Ladakh, but fortunately we managed to find ways of using the existing folding machine that will be suitable for the test production phase.
- The goal is to get 40 – 50 units ready for distribution to Himachal before the end of the month (the road south from Ladakh to Manali usually closes due to snow on the passes sometime early Nov). Tenzin will take them down and distribute to a number of worthy locations, including old age homes, nunneries and schools.
- Each stove will be numbered and tracked with location, owner contact details and product variations recorded. We will make follow up calls on a regular basis through the winter to find out how its going and get real time feedback on the user experience.
That’s the basic outline, and I’m happy to say that we are on track with our schedule so far.
The first few units came off the production line early this week and have gone to the family homes of the 3 local workers on the project. This is a deliberate ploy to get immediate local feedback from the people who are most involved with the making of the stoves on a day to day basis.
The very first day back after a one day holiday with the stoves, Norbu came with photos of the stove installed and a video of his wife sitting next to it, thanking me profusely saying how warm it is and how happy she is to have it. I asked Norbu directly how it was, he said a bit of smoke at first (it takes a little practice to get the stove to light up without making any smoke) but then he said it was “too hot and very good”. I’m still waiting for feedback from the other 2 families, as they had to arrange for flue pipes.
Meanwhile, an Australian photographer (Ashley Crowley) who is doing a long term study on black carbon and its effects on climate has flown up from Mumbai specially to document this phase of the project. We met in Leh about 2 months ago and he was keen to stay in touch with the rocket stove project, as one of the side benefits of burning so hot and efficiently is the virtual elimination of black carbon from the exhaust gases. Black carbon apparently contributes a stunning 60% to the immediate effects of climate change being felt in the Himalayas. It greatly accelerates snowmelt and glacial retreat, even though the particles are largely invisible to the naked eye.
As a result of talking through these issues with Ashley, as well as the issue of respiratory illness leading to more than 400,000 deaths each year in India alone (4 million globally), Tenzin and I decided to find out how easy it would be to make a clean burning rocket style cook stove just using clay, straw and puffed rice. It took less than one hour to make (we already had some dry donuts lying around) to make the stove, then another hour of burning to dry it out enough to see that it would work. The next day, with the clay properly dry, we could see that it was indeed a clean burning cook stove that worked perfectly with sticks, wood and dung.
Ashley and Tenzin next to the freshly made clean burning cook stove…
We are now going to make a video demonstrating this construction technique in order to share as widely as possible. There are various clean burning cook stove initiatives that I am aware of, but as far as I know, they all involve an NGO sourcing a mass produced product that requires funding, distribution, engagement, etc. This stove is so easy to make for such little cost (approx $1AUD for the puffed rice) with straw and clay readily available to most villagers, all it takes is the know how. We are now looking for various ways to share this information as widely as possible.
This is an example of the spin offs coming out of the experimentation happening here at the LEDeG campus. We have other projects as well, such as the free rocket stove clay workshop running from Monday to Friday next week. We have 3 people coming from Kashmir especially for this, as well as 3-4 locals confirmed. Ashley will be here to document and participate in the workshop, and we’ll be experimenting and sharing information on the many ways that clay rocket stoves can be used to dramatically reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Workshop Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1194011850670509/
I will write another update after the workshop as I’m sure lots of interesting things will come up through this week. Meanwhile the metal workshop team are nearly trained enough to keep producing the “Baby Rocket Stoves”. I’m in and out of the workshop every day, keeping an eye on things to make sure they keep the stoves rolling out the door. We’re also tweaking the design, constantly improving each one in some small way.
Ok… enough for now.
Stay tuned on facebook/himalayanrocketstove