MY LITTLE COOKSTOVE. A technology to use rice husk as household energy fuel. Two cheering experiences in Chad-Cameroon and Kenya.

Place: kenya, Africa
Sustainable management of natural resources Sustainable management of natural resources
Total Budget: € 0,00 | Period: From April 2009 To


In several sub-saharian contexts, households still rely on traditional solid fuels for daily cooking, using rudimentary devices like three-stone fires.
This results in a very low-efficiency usage of the fuel and huge health impacts for women and children that are exposed to harmful smokes and burn risks, besides increasing the stress on a delicate environment threatened by uncontrolled tree cutting.
CeTAmb LAB, Research Laboratory on Appropriate Technologies for Environmental Management in resource-limited Countries, University of Brescia, has designed and tested an effective-improved-cookstove in partnership with ACRA-CSS NGO in the Logone Valley (Chad/Cameroon) and with COL'OR NGO in Mwea region (Kenya).
The result is a product reliable, efficient, safe, that works with a 'poor' fuel like rice husk, adaptable to local cooking practices and socio cultural aspects, made with materials and tools available locally, affordable by end users.


Research Laboratory on Appropriate Technologies for Environmental Management in resource-limited Countries - DICATAM - University of Brescia - Italy

Lead applicant

CeTAmb LAB (Research Laboratory on Appropriate Technologies for Environmental Management in resource-limited Countries) was established at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Brescia and, since 2000, with Rector official decree and regular statute. Scientific Director is Carlo Collivignarelli, Environmental and Sanitary Engineering full professor at the same Faculty. The Centre’s aim is to conduct research on appropriate technical solutions, capable of facing environmental issues in Developing Countries. This research is performed within the University, but has important effects on external educational and productive activities. CeTAmb LAB collaborates with partners in Low and Middle Income Countries, such as NGOs or universities, to carry out research and education activities. The creation of this Centre was supported by a lot of local organizations: from universities and secondary schools to local agencies and NGOs already performing projects in Developing Countries.

Italian Association of Chimney Sweeps - Italy

Initiative partner

- rappresentare le famiglie professionali fumisti e spazzacamini - elevare le conoscenze tecniche del settore - contribuire alla riduzione dell'inquinamento - aumentare la sicurezza degli impianti - coinvolgere istituzioni e cittadini per il corretto uso degli impianti a biomassa

Col'or - Italy

Initiative partner

COL’OR è una Organizzazione Non Governativa che sostiene la promozione della persona attraverso progetti di cooperazione internazionale, nel pieno rispetto delle esigenze delle popolazioni beneficiarie e ritiene la formazione delle nuove generazioni indispensabile per creare una solida base di sensibilizzazione e garantire il futuro della cooperazione tra i popoli. COL’OR è attiva oggi con programmi di sviluppo in Africa Sub-Sahariana (Kenya), in Sahel (Burkina Faso e Senegal) e nei Balcani (Albania). In ciascun Paese collabora con realtà territoriali e/o costituisce sedi locali proprie per garantire la sostenibilità degli interventi. I principali ambiti di azione sono la formazione professionale e avviamento al lavoro, lo sviluppo rurale, l’imprenditoria sociale e la sanità di base/igiene. In Italia COL’OR promuove programmi di educazione allo sviluppo, sostegno al reddito, attività rivolte agli indigenti e imprenditoria sociale tramite Associazioni locali regionali autonome, facenti capo alla rete COL’OR.

The choice of the design of a new product is justified not only by environmental and technological factors (such as the research of more efficient technologies) but mainly by local constraints both technical (skills, materials and resources available on site) and socioeconomic (local cooking practices, convenience). The dissemination of low-technology but high-efficiency models was implemented according to the socio-economic conditions of the local people (minimal investment capacity due to very low level of income) and of the skills and the tools available for local small workshop. In 2012 My Little Cookstove has been awarded in the contest “Design & i Sud del mondo” as best sustainable and inclusive project.

Heat generation from rice husk cannot be achieved efficiently with a simple 'direct' combustion. Proper gasification would be the best technical way, but this work has focused on an intermediate solution, where rice husk in part burns 'directly' and in part is gasified. Natural draft, fundamental for gasification, is provided by the pressure gradient given by the height of the chimney if the pot is sealed in its proper position. The rice husk is put in a metal-net basket that is placed in the center of the combustion chamber. This geometry forces air to flow through the rice husk, allowing the production of combustible gases that can burn just below the pot, where secondary air enters the combustion chamber through the central duct in metal-net. A small starting fire (using a little amount of wood or charcoal) is placed in the central duct and this allows the process to start. After the ignition, the starting fire runs out and the central duct is free for the secondary air flow.

The use of crude earth as main building material Crude earth is a traditional material that has been used for ages in many developing countries. A basic requirement for this stove design is the local availability of most of the materials, as well as the access to most of the necessary construction techniques. In this manner the users can be enabled to easily maintain their new technology and, if the wears due to the daily use are repairable by the end-users, also durability issues are implicitly targeted. Therefore, mud-bricks have been chosen to build the stove structure.
The use of rice husk as alternative fuel The stove uses rice husk, a widely available biomass that is often seen as a waste. Thus, the recovery of such a resource as fuel can be welcomed positively. The fuel supply does not compete with resources necessary for food production being a waste by-product of rice production and often does not have another use.
mlc conceptual scheme The scheme describe the innovative conceptual dual stage operation of the natural draft mlc stove.

The Kirinyaga, one of the districts of the Central Province of Kenya, is an upland on the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya, cultivated over an area of about 15000 hectares of rice: it configures it as one of the most important rice paddies across the continent. The rice cultivation was initiated in 1956 following the construction of a public system of irrigation and has grown rapidly allowing the area to become the second largest market for rice production in Africa. The economy of Kenya is mainly based on the free market and the country is generally considered to be the main hub of East Africa for financial, communication and transportation. Mwea is the heart of this industrial district. Due to the constant increase of population, the current government is willing to implement policies to increase agricultural productivity, particularly for the rice, the main component of the daily diet of the population. These policies involve a greater availability of husk (deviation of rice).

Land degradation This picture, taken in the project area, shows the land degradation due to over-exploitation of forestal resources.
Women working in the rice paddy The woman is not only in charge of the household management but also engaged in the field work.
Working in the rice paddy Rice cultivation is the most important agricultural activity in the Mwea region.

The results obtained in families where the stove was introduced are both multiple.

  • The use of rice husk, free in large quantities, allowes to use money not to purchase wood but to purchase food (diversification of the family diet).
  • The use of rice husk avoids natural resources loss (consumption of wood), reducing the deforestation and desertification phenomenon.
  • The thermal inertia of the improved stove allows to cook food and to heat the water up to pasteurisation, reducing viral pathologies.
  • The efficiency of combustion allows the reduction of CO2 and particulate emission into the atmosphere.
  • Indoor air quality improves, with benefit for woman and child health (indoor air pollution is among the leading causes of mortality in developing countries).
  • The structure of the stove allows to cook in an upright position with relief of the spine.
  • The use of the stove reduces food cooking time, so mothers have more time to devote to the children.
Indoor air pollution reduction The use of a chimney (which drive the smoke out of the kitchen) and of a cleaner combustion process result in reduced indoor air pollution and a better living environment, in particular for women and children which are the most exposed.
Reduction of energy cost The use of the mlc stove results in significant cost savings in the family energy expenditure.
Reduction of wood consumption Using an alternative fuel as rice husk, the use of main traditional solid fuels suc as wood, and the relative costs or drudgery are significantly reduced.

The current energy access situation in Chad-Cameroon and Kenya is typical of many other developing countries.
Electricity supply is not reliable in urban areas and almost always missing in the rural ones.
Modern liquid fuel prices are not affordable for the majority of the population. Most of the people still rely on traditional solid fuels (mainly wood and charcoal) for daily cooking using rudimental devices like 3-stone fires.
That results in a very low efficiency usage of the fuel, huge health impacts for women and children exposed to harmful smokes and burning risks, unsustainable exploitation of the local natural resources already threatened by illegal cut and climate change related issues.
Rice husk, a waste biomass locally available in both the selected areas, can be a free alternative fuel to wood for household energy supply. Rice husk is often burned in open-air by the farmers to clear the lands or just to dispose them, wasting a potential energy resource.

Local people interviewing Local people needs and habits were deeply investigated in order to propose sustainable and appropriate solutions. Being cooking a daily and intimate practice, the success of the project action is strictly linked to the acceptability of the end-users. CeTAmb LAB researchers with the collaboration of ACRA-CCS and COL'OR local staff conducted several in-the-field surveys using semi-structured questionairres.
Woman and child exposed to smoke produced by a 3-stone fire The use of rudimental cooking devices, such as the 3 stone fire, is common in the project areas. This results in a number of negative impacts on the population, such as the exposure to harmful smokes produced by poor incomplete combustion of traditional solid fuels.
Woman carrying wood Women have to walk long distances to supply wood for the daily family needs. This is great drudgery and a time-consuming activity.

CeTAmb LAB researchers started the project trying to give an answer to the energy needs in situations where resources are scarce or not economically available. ACRA NGO and CeTAmb LAB focused on cooking energy consumption as priority action in the Logone Valley, identifying rice husk as a possible alternative fuel. The team of local technicians provided valuable suggestions to overcome constraints related to the lack of materials needed for the stove construction.
ANFUS, Italian association of chimney sweeps, supported the research sharing their technical knowhow and providing the laboratories where the research&development phase was conducted.
The latest partnership with COL'OR NGO has allowed the completion of the pilot research step: in 15 houses improved stoves were built and tested. Kenyan end users suggested project revisions related mainly to the social conditions of use of the stove, which allowed to adapt the technology to their own practices.

2007-2011 ACRA The idea of a rice hisk stove was born during the participation of CeTAmb LAB researchers to the activity of an EU project coordinated by ACRA-CCS NGO in the Logone Valley (Chad/Cameroon). First prototypes of the stove where built and tested in this context, using local materials available.
2007-ongoing Human resources involved in time in the project People, both from Italian NGOs and associatios, Chadian, Camerunese and Kenyan local technician and project staff, undergraduated students and researchers from the University of Brescia collaborated to the projects under the scientifc coordination of CeTAmb LAB staff.
2007-ongoing The inventors of the stove Simone Parmigiani and Francesco Vitali developed the stove during their PhD at the University of Brescia, under the guide of their supervisors Mentore Vaccari and Adriano Maria Lezzi, within the research activities of CeTAmb LAB (coordinated by Prof. Carlo Collivignarelli)
2011-2014 ANFUS ANFUS laboratories hosted the research and development phase in Italy with the support of Mr. Sandro Bani (director of the laboratory) and the help of a number of undergraduated students from he University of Brescia.
2013-ongoing COL'OR Since 2013 COL'OR and CeTAmb LAB have been working in Kenya in order to test at pilot scale the introduction of the stove in different context. The stove was adapted according to local cooking habits and practices thanks to the co-development in collaboration with local technicians and population.

The co-development phase implemented in the field in Kenya aimed at solving the most critical points.
First, the low duration of the combustion due to the batch feeding. In the local context meals preparation normally takes 2 hours, while the stove guaranteed about 1 hour of operation. The size of the stove was then increased (up to 4 kg of rice husk).
Second, the absence of a firepower regulation. The internal structure was modified adding an horizontal duct communicating with the central one at the base of the reactor. That allowed to regulate the firepower simply by adding wood sticks through this second horizontal duct.
Finally, the presence of metallic parts exposed to fire, which may incur in fast deterioration. The solution proposed was to substitute the central metal duct with a structure built with thicker iron bar melted in order to keep the husk and let the air flow. Also the bottom part of the stove was obtained by punching a metal sheet, allowing the proper air down inlet.

Local population feedback The feedbak of local population resulted precious to adapt the stove to end-user practices and needs. In some cases also some useful advices and improvements to the stove were given, as shown by this woman presenting a DIY modification to the stove inner duct.

The use of My Little Cookstove in place of other traditional cooking devices allows the reduction of the environmental impact in different ways:

  • Reduction of deforestation and desertification processes: the stove consumes wood in the starting phase only. A significant reduced wood use can be achieved.
  • Air pollution reduction: thanks to a more efficient combustion process, lower CO2 emissions were estimated according to recognized international methodologies in comparison to the use of other traditional solid fuels. Moreover, burning rice husk in a proper process avoid its open burning resulting in lower GHG emissions.
  • Recovery of waste: rice husk becomes an energy resource rather than a wasted biomass and the char/ash produced by burning can be used as soil ammendant.
  • Reduction of waste: a low technology product allow to reduce wastes (for example, mud bricks used as material of construction are recyclable).
Avoided CO2 emissions The use of a short cycle renewable biomass such as rice husk avoids a significant amount of CO2 emissions related to the burnig of traditional non-renewable solid fuels.

MCL project started in 2007 and has not yet ended.
The results originate from the dialogue of different cultures and people: university, italian and local technicians, NGOs and end users.
Attend to scientific meetings and travel in the areas of use of the stove have led to grow collaborations between partners. The prize awarded for the best sustainable product in “Design & i Sud del mondo" contest confirmed the value of the idea.
Different countries of Africa, Chad, Cameroon, Kenya attest the replicability and  design shared with end-users guarantees duplicability.
Local operators in Kenya have shown interest in pursuing the experience, as confirmed in articles published in the Kenyan media.
COL'OR NGO has therefore propose a new step, in collaboration with Caritas Kenya, in which instruct trainers that could explain in the villages the construction of the stove. Caritas is also available to start a process of micro-credit in order to reach the greatest number of families.

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf "Design without Borders" award In 2012 the association Design without Borders awarded the mlc stove with the first prize for Best and sustainable products.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Kenyan newspapers The pilot experience was appreciated by end-users and several local newspapers gave visibility to it.

Dissemination followed different ways because different cultures and languages were involved.
At academic level, several scientific contributions and papers were published, presenting the details of the experiences of CeTAmb LAB researchers.
At technical level, the website fuocoperfetto.altervista.org open shares the documentation produced for MLC.
COL'OR NGO published on its website a video presenting the project in Kenya.
At local level, the process is more informal and relies mainly on the distribution of the leaflet that explain how DIY the stove. Local media have publicized the experience.

DIY mlc A simple brochure used in Kenya to promote the mlc stove.
Trentino stove camp 2012 CeTAmb LAB researchers share their experience with other researchers and people working or simply interested to cleaner and more efficient combustion process. Fuocoperfetto is an infomal web-based network that make easier this exchange. Paola Rosà and Antonio Senter are the coordinator.
COL'OR NGO video in Kenya The video shows the context where the pilot experience was conducted. You can see the rice mill and the wasted rice husk. The stove is now used indoor and outdoor with different construction materials
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Vitali PhD thesis One of the PhD thesis discussed on the topic of energy access in developing countries.