Over three billion people worldwide use wood, charcoal, and other biomass for daily household uses, such as cooking, lighting, and heating. The consequences of burning biomass as fuel can be severe, though, with potentially high health and environmental costs. Biomass fuels emit a large amount of hazardous air pollutants, and given that they are typically burned indoors in open fires or poorly functioning stoves, the result is often a high level of exposure to these toxins and their related health risks. These health risks include respiratory illness and pneumonia, lung cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, a weakened immune system, and reduced lung function. In terms of environmental consequences, the high demand of biomass sources can also place significant pressure on local forests and woodlands, leading to deforestation and loss of soil fertility. Biomass use also releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and as such, is a leading contributor to global climate change. Under current trends, household energy use in Africa alone will produce 6.7 billion tons of carbon by 2050.
Poor households currently relying on biomass fuels are unlikely to switch to cleaner fuels in the near future due to lack of affordability. There is a critical need, therefore, for interventions that reduce exposures to high levels of indoor air pollution, including continued development of household equipment that use less fuel and reduce emissions substantially. The use of improved stoves in the developing world has the potential to serve as one potential solution. In fact, several mechanisms already exist and new ones are evolving for rich nations to subsidize improved stoves that reduce greenhouse gases. In this project, we endeavor to evaluate the potential for using sustainable, fuel-efficient alternatives in sub-Saharan Africa. Our findings can serve an important role in the effort to break the reinforcing cycle of energy poverty and underdevelopment in impoverished countries.
In this investigation, we will use a series of projects to study the effects of improved stoves in the developing country context. The goals of this project are two-fold:
- Evaluate solar ovens: this phase will seek to measure how well solar ovens can reduce the consumption of biomass fuel use and its related risks. The project will be implemented in conjunction with Solar Household Energy (SHE), an NGO with significant experience in the distribution and marketing of solar ovens throughout Africa and Latin America. Given the high demand and waiting list of people with interest in purchasing solar ovens, random selection is one fair way to distribute the limited supply of equipment. Our study will exploit this randomization to estimate the causal impact of solar ovens on the outcomes of interest. A survey of women seeking solar ovens will supply data on demographic and economic characteristics of households, fuel consumption, financial and time expenditures on fuel, and incidence of respiratory illnesses. Data collection staff will also visit each household to install a device for capturing particulates; these particulates measure fuel use, emissions, and indoor air pollution.
- Designing an efficient supply chain: using the toolkit of operations research, we will also endeavor to understand how to design an efficient supply chain that integrates a reverse supply chain for the documentation of emissions reductions.