Improved cookstoves are touted to cause less pollution than traditional mud stoves. However a new study has found something entirely different.
The first real-world, head-to-head comparison of "improved cookstoves" (ICs) and traditional mud stoves has revealed that some ICs may at times release more of the worrisome "black carbon," or soot - particles that are tied to serious health and environmental concerns - than traditional mud stoves or open-cook fires.
The report has raised concerns about the leading hope as a clean cooking technology in the developing world.
Abhishek Kar, Hafeez Rehman, Jennifer Burney and colleagues explained that hundreds of millions of people in developing countries in South Asia, Africa and South America are exposed to soot from mud stoves and 3-stone fires used for cooking, heating and light.
The particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and have been linked to health problems similar to those associated with cigarette smoking. In addition, black soot released into the atmosphere is a major factor in global warming.
Aid agencies and governments have been seeking replacements for traditional cookstoves and fires to remedy those problems, with ICs as one of the leading hopes.
Until now, however, there have been little real-world data on the actual performance of ICs - which have features like enhanced air flow and a battery-powered fan to burn wood and other fuel more cleanly.
The researchers measured black carbon emissions from five IC models and traditional mud stoves.
They did the test in real homes as part of Project Surya, which quantifies the impacts of cleaner cooking technologies in a village in India.
Forced draft stoves burned cleaner than any other IC. However, black carbon concentrations from all ICs varied significantly, even for the same stove from one day to the next.
Surprisingly, some natural draft stoves occasionally emitted more black carbon than the traditional mud cookstove.
The study has been published in ACS' journal Environmental Science 'n' Technology.