Heating the world with the Rocket Stove

A brilliantly simple way to be sustainable.
Rodney Rascona, UWToday

More than ever, the world is in need of methods that will dramatically reduce carbon footprints while maintaining the productivity of essential processes. The wait for sophisticated technology to advance may take too long, and the costs of such inventions could be too high for use and purchase by the masses. Fortunately, a simpler, more accessible method already exists, and could alter the way we look at the efficiency of combustion for heat.

Around 50% of the world continues to rely on cooking and heating with wood or charcoal on open fires, which results in the destruction of many trees. Other homes overuse oil, coal or gas to heat their homes and water supplies. While solar and wind energy can mitigate some costs of typical fuel burning, it is not enough for many regions that lack year-round sunlight or the proper passive-solar (solar energy gathered using solar panels, south-facing windows etc.) infrastructure. The Rocket Stove, however, can resolve these issues.

Dubbed by some as the most sustainable stove type to heat homes using renewable sources, the Rocket Stove may be constructed from mostly recycled objects and affordable materials. It is also quick and relatively easy to build. Rocket Stoves can be almost any size, from small and portable to large enough to be installed as a home’s main heat source. The heat emitted burns clean, lasts long, and releases little to no smoke, producing mostly steam instead.

The wood burning of a Rocket Stove takes place at a fraction of the rate of regular wood stove requirements and efficiently heats a stove-top, small home or water supply. Small amounts of fuel material are usually enough to fuel an entire home for a day, which means easier foraging of fuel and a deterrence from deforestation for gathering large amounts of wood. These attributes, directly linked to climate change, can then be reduced by nearly double.

There are four main components of a Rocket Stove. The large chamber is comprised of metal that is cylindrical in shape and rests vertically, such as a pipe or barrel, and can support cooking vessels placed on top. The stove pipe acts as a second combustion chamber, fitted into the base of the large chamber horizontally. A fuel shelf is then incorporated to hold the fuel at the entrance, and suspends material to allow the free passage of air flow. Finally, an exhaust tunnel enables steam and CO2 to exit from the opposite side.

Kindling, which is small burnable objects such as twigs, leaves and other brush material, is placed vertically on the fuel shelf, where the objects are lit- just a handful will do to begin the process. The fire then feeds into the stove pipe chamber horizontally from within and through to the large chamber at a 90-degree angle. The combustion within stoves is so thoroughly insulated that the J or L-shaped double chamber generates a powerful draft that in turn siphons heat and smoke into itself, intensifying the fire. The siphon effect also causes the kindling on the outside to burn from the bottom and get sucked inward, so that smoke does not escape through the opening while burning.

This smoking occurs within the Rocket Stove, unlike regular wood stoves, which expel heat through a chimney as excess smoke. The smoke is circulated along with other continually burning material until it is nearly used up. Often a layer above the exhaust pipe- in many cases built running through a bench top- retains the final generated heat, which can then be sat upon or slowly enabled to radiate heat throughout the day.

The entire process is said to be up to 90% fuel- efficient while reducing smoke emissions by 95%. Heat emissions also continue to circulate well after burning has taken place due to great insulation. Therefore, large stoves used to warm entire houses can function for over 24 hours with nothing extra being burned.

Over 1 million deaths and illnesses annually have been linked to prolonged inhalation of harmful chemicals caused by the smoke produced from open-flame cooking methods. Being insulated and built slightly off the floor, Rocket Stoves translate to nearly zero harmful fumes. Children also have a smaller chance of burning themselves. Time spent on trips to collect fuel can be minimized, making life easier for families while reducing the impact on local forests.

With the aid of The Paradigm Project, the Jiko Poa Rocket Stove is being distributed by the thousands in Kenya. The Jiko Poas are designed and built in Kenya, resulting in local jobs and resiliency as civilians to help solve regional needs. Countries such as Haiti, Guatemala, and Ethiopia have also begun to thrive on similar Rocket Stove projects. Time, money, and trees are saved, while carbon emissions are minimized and smoke is drastically reduced.

Building Rocket Stoves can be done with many cheap and recycled materials in several variations. Contents can include bricks, tile, wood, barrel drums, stone, cob (a mixture of clay, sand, and straw) and various metals. Portable stoves cost as little as USD 15 to make while the larger versions can be made for under USD 100. Workshop tutorials hosted by experts span continents, allowing the experts to spread knowledge and contribute assistance wherever it is needed.

As the optimistically minimal and convenient Rocket Stove evolves and grows in popularity, so does hope for a world whose carbon output is low enough to damage the earth less than it now does. Solutions to some of earth’s most pressing climate issues already exist- it is only a matter of implementing them and sharing the knowledge.

Cassie Piccolo

Cassie graduated from the University of Guelph, Canada, with a degree in Biological studies and Fine Arts. She has worked with Organic Food organizations, Food Not Bombs, worked with the Sierra Club, is experienced in sustainable agriculture and landscape architecture, and most recently attended the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris. She has been a front-line activist, fighting alongside Indigenous and rural communities against fracking in Canada. In spare time she writes poetry, paints, and hangs out with her massive bear-dog.
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