Australian innovator Russell Collins has developed a Himalayan rocket stove that is energy efficient, clean, and less polluting. It uses four to five times less firewood than a conventional stove for burning.
“I have noticed that a major portion of the day for women residing in the Himalayan region is spent in collecting and carrying firewood, and then in cooking. The stoves they use consume a lot of firewood and create pollution. Moreover, forests in lower Himalayas are being cut and trucked all over the mountains only to be sold as firewood. So I decided to develop an energy efficient rocket stove that will be suitable for the conditions here,” says Russell Collins, a resident of Australia.
It was in 1992 when Russell visited India for the first time. Born and brought up in Adelaide, he dropped out of a Bachelor of Science course and lived in an alternative ecological community on the east coast of Australia for many years.
After visiting places like Spiti and Ladakh in India, he was instantly hooked.
The culture and the community kept calling out to him. He soon started bringing tourists to India every year through his venture ‘Yak Trak – unique journeys’ and travelled widely in the lower Himalayan region. While he was arranging tours and travels, he was also interacting with the locals and observing their lifestyle.
“I met the innovator Sonam Wangchuk in Ladakh many times over the years while bringing groups of Spiti children to Ladakh on ec0-educational tours. In 2013, we were talking about design and technology, he shared the idea of Rocket Stove with me. He thought it was a great concept and encouraged me to take up the project. So I started researching. During my trips between India and Australia, I came up with seven failed prototypes before I had a working model,” recalls Russell.
To test the prototype, he ran a crowd funding campaign in Australia for the seed funding and attracted the attention of a major sponsor. With the funds, he set up a small manufacturing unit in Ladakh. He then rolled out the first batch of 30 stoves and donated all of them to lower income households, nunneries, and monasteries there.
Currently, the second batch of stoves is in the making and this time Russell plans to donate 15 out 25 stoves.
Rocket stoves use firewood (small diameter sticks) as fuel. Small twigs of wood are burned in a high-temperature combustion chamber that is fitted with an insulated vertical chimney, which lets out smoke.
“The Himalayan Rocket Stove uses an insulated burn tube to get the combustion temperatures high enough so the smoke itself will burn. This releases an incredible amount of energy as heat. Smoke is nothing but uncombusted hydrocarbons, and when the temperature goes above 750-800° C, it burns and releases energy as heat and thus the exhaust gases are cleaner,” says Russell.
This cleaner burning process makes the Himalayan Rocket Stove highly energy efficient. Among its other features, it can heat water as well as heat up the room whilst being used as a cook top. A newer version also has the capacity to charge phones.
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Russell is also designing a Himalayan Rocket Stove Project on the lines of the social entrepreneurship model. While the stoves will be priced in the range of Rs. 15,000 to 20,000 per unit, he plans to subsidise the rates for lower-income families from the profits.
Russell is also conducting workshops to train locals to make another type of the stove made from clay. In the process of developing the Himalayan Rocket Stove, he stumbled upon this design of the clay-based smokeless cookstove.
“In the process of developing the Himalayan Rocket Stove, I also tried making stoves from clay. Although they weren’t as efficient as the steel rocket stoves, I observed that they were still more efficient and cleaner burning than the stoves being used currently. And since they are made out of clay, anyone has access to the raw material and can make them quite easily! That’s when I started the Smokeless Cookstove Project. I conducted the first workshop on making clay stoves last month in Chandigarh,” says Russell.