Cookstoves that can produce biochar, like the one pictured above in western Kenya, can be a key tool in fighting respiratory disease and boosting agricultural production.

SeaChar was written up on NationalGeographic.com today: Biochar Cookstoves Boost Health for People and Crops

Breathing Easier

Groups like Seattle, Washington-based SeaChar, the recipient of a $72,000grant from National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative, have been testing new variations on clean cookstoves. SeaChar’s Estufa Finca (“Farm Stove” in Spanish) burns biomass cleanly while turning it into biochar. It’s not a fancy apparatus: Fashioned from local materials, its components include a 5-gallon steel paint bucket, some corrugated steel roofing material, and half of a one-gallon tomato sauce can.

Gloria Torres Buitrago’s family is one of 110 households that acquired one of the stoves last year through SeaChar’s Estufa Finca program in Costa Rica’s Talamanca region. Buitrago says the stove has relieved not only the smoke problem in her home, but also the effort required to keep fires burning. “The time and money it takes to get wood has been reduced a lot,” Buitrago said in an interview with a SeaChar staff member, who then translated and emailed her responses. “This time can be used to share with family or just do other things in the garden.” (See related story: “Protecting Health and the Planet With Clean Cookstoves.”)

In addition to wood, the stove burns garden debris, dried animal dung, and food material such as dried corncobs and coconut husks. A family cooking a pot of beans will use 40 percent less wood with the Estufa Finca than with an open-fire stove, said SeaChar President Art Donnelly, who designed the stove. “Those are trees you do not have to cut down.”

Donnelly said tests conducted by SeaChar show a significant reduction in exposure to harmful smoke. “In laboratory testing, these stoves reduced particulate matter emissions by 92 percent and the carbon monoxide emissions by 87 percent as compared to an open cooking fire,” he said in an email. “These two are the big drivers of respiratory disease.”