In 2012, an estimated four million deaths were linked to household cooking smoke; women and children cooking in the home on open-fire cookstoves in developing countries breathe in the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes daily.

Black carbon open-fire cooking stoves attribute to an estimated 18% of the planet’s warming. BioLite takes on these pollution and clean energy challenges in the developing world with thermoelectric generators, 3D Printing and a revolutionary stove.

BioLite took the world by storm (or rather, in spite of the storm) when the company set up their CampStoves in New York to provide victims of Hurricane Sandy some warm drinks and free electricity in 2012.

The BioLite CampStoves utilize thermoelectric generators to produce electricity from twigs (and other solid biomass) burned within the stove while simultaneously reducing a significant amount of carbon emissions.

Heat from the fire is converted into electricity via the thermoelectric generator. This powers an internal fan that blows air back into the burn chamber, mixing the fuel and air which results in highly improved combustion. Surplus electricity is sent to a USB port for charging personal devices.

The ability to charge phones and other USB adaptive electronics is a powerful feature benefit not only to the average American consumer, but in developing markets as well; the CampStove in part allows BioLite to sell clean cookstoves into homes worldwide that have a crucial need for clean cooking and energy solutions.

BioLite’s passion is to bring Energy Everywhere, and they will do just that with their latest cookstove, the BioLite HomeStove, which is set to reduce emissions from cookstoves in developing countries, resulting in cleaner air and healthier living conditions.

The BioLite HomeStove has been in testing since as early as 2010 in developing countries worldwide with continuous improvements evolving it into a clean alternative to current open-fire cookstoves. It’s the “passion project” of the company, according to BioLite engineer Ryan Gist.

“BioLite HomeStove takes the core technology from the CampStove and puts the revenue from the CampStove into the HomeStove so we can continue to incubate markets in the developing world,” says Gist. “We’ve got a few revisions of the stove out in the field right now for pilot programs, and we are rolling out large scale programs as we speak with 3000 stoves in Africa currently.”

Three billion people worldwide rely on open-fire cooking stoves that release as much carbon dioxide as a car, states the World Health Organization[i]. A 2009 New York Times article on “Third-World cooking stoves” estimates that 18% of the planet’s warming can be attributed to black carbon from cooking stoves[ii].

BioLite states that one billion metric tons of CO2 from cooking fires is released into the atmosphere each year; billions of people cooking on open fires lack access to electricity. According to a World Health Organization Study, women and children using indoor open-fire cooking stoves breathe in the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes daily[iii].

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a partner with the World Health Organization, estimated in a 2012 release that 4 million deaths occur each year from household cooking smoke[iv]; the World Health Organization has predicted this number will continue to rise.

Emissions from open-fire cookstoves are not just a local threat, but a global threat severely impacting the health of users and the atmospheric pollution contributing to the overall warming of Earth.

While the environmental and health repercussions, such as pneumonia from indoor particulate matter and chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD), are apparent in the use of indoor open-fire cookstoves, the solutions haven’t been quite as clear; the BioLite HomeStove is aiming to provide an all-inclusive solution with cleaner emissions, and therefore cleaner air, with the added promise of electricity.

BioLite’s mission to provide clean energy and cooking for families in developing countries, of which many families have zero access to electricity, has been a revolutionary process requiring cutting-edge development solutions such as 3D Printed custom measurement tools and prototypes to further the stove’s development.

“We worked with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on protocol and testing in North Carolina to ensure the HomeStove is very clean [in its emissions],” says Gist. “It’s the cleanest stove that doesn’t require electricity and in fact generates its own electricity. We’re always trying to make it cleaner.”

Gist and his team focus on multiple integral ways to make their HomeStove ever cleaner, including rapid turnaround plastic parts via 3D Printing. “There’s a few main areas where we’ve found a use for 3D Printing, especially in the industrial design and development on our commercial stove which translates now to development on the HomeStove,” says Gist. “3D Printing is supporting the HomeStove, CampStove and future products.” It’s not merely in design that 3D Printing is being implemented, but in research as well.

“We order 3D Printed parts to support the research end of our mission,” says Gist. “We’re doing a lot to reduce emissions through the HomeStove. To ensure our stove is as clean as possible requires highly technical instrumentation to execute testing.” When Gist’s team requires custom instrumentation for specific airflow rate and circulation measurements on the HomeStove’s fire and inner fan, they design custom measurement and analysis instruments which are then 3D Printed.

“Finding out air flow patterns is a big part of cleaning up the stove,” says Gist. “Solid Concepts’ [a 3D Printing service provider] 3D Printed plastics has allowed us to build flow models to measure airflow which saves us time because we can rescale as needed. And it saves us money because we don’t have to pay someone to build a custom stainless steel flow meter.”

Using 3D Printed custom instrumentation has helped further improve the quality of the HomeStove without resorting to expensive machining or time consuming hand modeling; the process results in exact instruments for better analysis which further improves the stove, its airflow, emissions and thereby electricity output.

The 3D Printing process of choice for the engineering team at BioLite is Stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printing for early process testing, though PolyJet (another high resolution 3D Printing process) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) are also used. “SLA has given us a really good surface finish, and the price is not bad,” says Gist.

“We get fine detail and the job done in the best price for detail fidelity; surface roughness/ smoothness is very important when we’re doing those airflow measurements.” SLA is a 3D Printing process which relies on an ultraviolet laser to cure specific sections of a vat of liquid resin via dynamic mirrors and is capable of printing in layer thickness (or resolutions) as small as 0.004”; its resolution is largely responsible for its good surface detail. Each layer is cured and stacked upon previous layers until the product is complete. Many BioLite products have benefited from 3D Printed prototypes in some form. “We just launched a kettle pot accessory and the top has a plastic cover,” says Gist. “We went through hundreds of iterations. We’ve been using Solid Concepts and for prototype iterations, functioning prototypes and some future projects.”

Gist’s team fabricates 3D versions of products for printing, regardless of the final material the product will be produced in. The physical prototype gives his team an opportunity to observe and test the product in physical, environmental based settings. “Working with prototypes that ‘look like, feel like’ the final product allows us to attack any problems immediately; these 3D Printed prototypes behave like the final product and that early information comes together in the final product,” says Gist. Gist’s team uses 3D Printing from two outside service providers, Solid Concepts and, for many purposes, including for the production of prototype handles and switches for their products which help them determine optimal user interface; for certain products the functionality is reviewed through the 3D Printed prototypes. “

Having working 3D Printed prototypes is awesome; you can experience how it feels in your hand, how it looks next to other products, and take that all the way through design refinement to result in higher fidelity CAD models and further prototypes,” says Gist. “The ability to get a real time quote right away while developing CAD models is priceless. It’s great to reduce shape or volume and immediately know exactly how much it’s going to cost us when it’s made. It’s really helpful for us.”

Using the 3D Printed instrumentations for measuring airflow allows the team at BioLite to accurately assess the cleanliness of the stove’s emissions, and how to further improve upon its current capabilities. The immediacy of online quoting for products and 3D Printing has aided BioLite in advancing their HomeStove, which is providing cleaner cookstoves worldwide.

Currently, Biolite’s HomeStove emits 91% less carbon monoxide and 94% less smoke than open-fire cookstoves, all while producing electricity that BioLite estimates can significantly diminish fuel and electricity costs for families. BioLite’s hope is to produce the HomeStove at a price affordable for users in developing countries.

By prototyping frequently and often with 3D Printing BioLite was able to save in manufacturing costs pre-production. The revenue from their highly popular CampStove is being used towards the development of the HomeStove. In turn, the HomeStove may soon deliver an indoor living space free of particulates from open-fire cookstoves, delivering healthier atmospheres for families while working towards a healthier atmosphere worldwide and inexpensive energy for the developing world.

[i] “Indoor air pollution and health,” World Health Organization: Media centre, September 2011

[ii] Elisabeth Rosenthal, “Third-World Stove Soot is Target in Climate Change,” New York Times, April 15, 2009

[iii] “Fuel for life: household energy and health,” World Health Organization, 2006

[iv] Sean Bartlett, “New Study Estimates 4 Million Deaths from Household Cooking Smoke Each Year,” Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, December 13, 2012