Simply a photo


Photo: I’m conducting a test on our temperature sensor equipment.

Things you cannot see in this picture:

I am in a very small room, perhaps 10 by 10 feet. There is a small grate in the ceiling where air can escape, and a small door by which I entered, 6 feet tall and less than 2 feet wide.

This is not someone’s home – it is a laboratory where a small team designs some truly promising stoves. This is the same room where they build the stoves from a silica based absorptive cement-like material pressed into molds, and the same room where the stoves are tested.

“Testing” sounds innocuous, but it involves endless cooking trials with names like the Kitchen Performance Test, Water Boiling Test, and Controlled Cooking Test – standardized to record the efficiency of a stove (through amount of fuel burned).

This tiny room is always full of smoke. It’s hard for me to handle physically – my eyes water, sometimes I start coughing, and my clothes are drenched almost instantly, sweat pouring down my arms.

You may not notice – but there are actually four stoves in this picture:

count the stoves

Three of them are in use. There is another stove out of sight, also in use. Imagine crouching in front of three lit stoves in an unventilated room in a concrete building in near-120 degree heat. The stove directly in front of me is a mithai ka chulha, or mud stove, made by the family of the cook at the guesthouse where I am staying. He brought the stove to the lab on the back of his bicycle.

The work being done here on stoves is incredible, and much of the intuitive creativity goes to Lokendra-ji, below:


I cannot help but be overwhelmed imagining the occupational exposure that these cookstove pioneers accrue on a daily basis – how unfair that from their sincere efforts to reduce indoor air pollution for millions across India they themselves inhale such a significant dose.

And finally – the first picture showed but could never do justice to the instrument in my hand – a cell phone (or a “mobile”, as it is called here). This normal mobile has a program designed by Nexleaf Analytics that records the temperature every few seconds using a temperature sensor attached through the headphone jack. “It’s a kind of magic”. 

We are deploying these sensors throughout our study to test (over 24 hours) how often the stove was used. And once our intervention is complete, we’ll return to the same households to test how many adopted an improved cookstove and whether it has had an effect on the usage of their traditional cookstove.

Ultimately, this mobile device may become even more powerful – I hold in my hand a potential source for generating carbon credits for black carbon. If these phones can show a reduction is use of a traditional cookstove, this represents a similar reduction in black carbon released by the stove. If a household wirelessly uploads this data showing they are generating less black carbon, suddenly millions of poor households could be part of the carbon market, receiving payments (perhaps even in the form of cell phone minutes) for reduced stove emissions.

Though this laboratory is densely clouded with smoke, it’s illuminated by the light of possibility.

6 thoughts on “Simply a photo

  1. amazing! are the stoves attached to the ground? i looks like they were made from the same material of the floor. the guy brought it to the lab on his bike?

    it is interesting to think about the differences between a lab here, like my dad’s lab, and the lab you are working in. when i saw the last pictures of the lab work i wondered about the people doing the work and if they had any way to protect their own lungs. Can’t you wear a simple face mask or cloth? would that help at all?? take care of yourself!

    • Mud stoves ARE attached to the ground when build within a household. Since this one was built for transport, it wasn’t. cycles here (as they call bicyles… a “bike” is a motorcycle) have racks on the back for carrying extra people, gear, or in this case, a mud stove.

      I am so stunned by the difference between “lab” conditions, too. Yes, I believe that wearing something around your face must help. The lab workers choose not to do this – I have suggested it. Surely, I should too – I try to spend as little time inside the lab as possible and walk through the tiny door back outside to wait for the tests to complete.

      Thanks for your comment and questions! ❤

  2. Jess, the carbon credit idea is very interesting, but how do you avoid cheating? What if households simply don’t record emissions when they are highest?

    • Thanks for commenting, Jason! Nice to hear from you 🙂 This idea is still very much evolving and this is something we’re thinking about! We’ll see how this round of data collecting goes and build solutions from our experiences in the field…

  3. Could you please tell me more about the stove (3rd photo from top with man). which organization is producing that stove. I have seen only single burner stove but this one is double burner.

    • Hi, that is a stove that TERI is producing. It is not yet available on the market. Thanks for your comment.


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