Prakti High Efficiency Stoves

I’ve just recently returned from a trip to India as part of an UnBox Fellowship exploring sustainability in Auroville, near Pondicherry on the southeast coast.  Auroville is a sort of experimental utopian community founded in 1968, in an attempt to create a society without nationality, belonging to and driven by humanity as a whole.  Its priorities are on a mix of spirituality, sustainability and the ability to work as a harmonious society, open to anyone from around the world who will participate and contribute to the community.  It was a pleasure to visit and a rewarding experience and I plan to write about in more detail in another post.

Auroville is full of remarkable people researching and developing various technologies and practices for sustainability and development, and one of the people we had the pleasure to meet was Mouhsine Serrar, the founder and CEO of the Prakti Design Lab.  Prakti designs, manufactures and sells a range of high-efficiency, low-smoke stoves that address environmental, economic and health issues for its customers.

Mohsine Serrar welcomes us to the office

Founder and CEO Mouhsine Serrar introduces Prakti stoves to the UnBox fellows

Prakti box - "Save Fuel, Time & Money"

a box for Prakti's Leo stove

The need:

According to Prakti, “smoke from traditional stoves and open fires kills 1.6 million people every year.” (World Health Organization figures)  Those affected are mostly women, who do most of the cooking in households around the world.  But children and other family members also suffer from smoke inhalation in kitchens without proper ventilation.  In colder climates, kitchens are much more enclosed and often without chimneys, increasing the harm of smoke from fires for cooking and heating.

Fuel for cooking is a big issue for both environmental and economic reasons.  People cut or gather firewood where it is available.  Where it is not, they buy wood and charcoal.  Where there is truly an abundance of trees and vegetation, harvesting firewood is of little consequence.  But in countless areas around the world, deforestation by people harvesting firewood is creating scarcity of future fuel, contributing to soil erosion and its consequences (loss of nutrients for agriculture, landslides), forcing people (mostly women and girls) to walk farther to gather firewood, or forcing them to pay for wood or charcoal where they didn’t have to before.  For those who have to pay for cooking and heating fuel, costs can be as much 30% or more of families’ incomes.  And each day “over 2 million tons of wood are burned for cooking and 4 million tons of CO2 are released.” (Prakti)

Prakti’s solution:

To serve these needs, Prakti continues to design and develop a range of stoves using “an integrated approach that fully involves the users while bringing state-of-the-art engineering into the kitchen.”

“People in different countries use different fuels and cook different meals. One stove does not fit all. This is why we use strong user-focused design methodologies and spend long hours in the field to develop regionally adapted cookstoves. We listen and talk to the women who cook as they can tell us what they need in order to develop the most attractive and most useful stoves.”

For example, Prakti has worked in Nepal over the last two years and notes exciting results in performance, usability, durability and overall satisfaction. Says Serrar, “The stove we developed for Nepal is a double burner with a chimney. The stove was sold on a micro-credit. We developed also ‘chimney’ module for space heating and for water heating (prototype stage). As distribution scales up, the stove is assembled/produced locally.”

Prakti - Mouhsine with Leo stove

Prakti's Leo wood stove with two burners and a heat-radiating chimney

Prakti also works in Haiti, a nation in need especially after the 2010 earthquake but facing the consequences of vast deforestation much earlier, where they are finding large demand.  There, Prakti’s Orka model burns briquettes of compressed, recycled urban waste (cardboard, paper, cotton, saw dust) made locally in Port-au-Prince, eliminating the need for charcoal as cooking fuel.  Briquettes can also be made from agricultural waste (sugar cane fibre).  This feature caught former President Bill Clinton’s attention, who praised and awarded Serrar and Prakti during the Clinton Global Initiative in 2009—seen in the video below:

Prakti’s models include the Leo wood stove, which can have either one or two burners and an optional chimney, the Leo charcoal stove which can handle a variety of pot sizes and is available in two sizes itself (though Serrar says its dimensions allow it to be easily recreated at any scale), and the Orka stove was created to meet diverse cooking habits, can burn wood, charcoal or compressed briquettes, is available in multiple sizes and “can cook for 100 to 500 people.”

Prakti stoves in action

left to right: Leo wood stove (single burner), Leo charcoal stove, two Orca stoves

Prakti stoves and UnBox fellows

UnBox fellows see Prakti's stoves in action in the testing area

“All Prakti stoves are covered by a one-year limited warranty,” Prakti’s website states. “They last five years with standard local manual maintenance after 2.5 years of operation.” And Prakti is happy to make third-party evaluations available by request.

As a social business, Prakti’s largest upcoming challenges are funding, distribution and marketing.  The product is there and the engineers are in place to iterate as they continue to do from constant feedback from women in the communities they work with.  And, as with many other technologies for customers at the base of the pyramid, a continual challenge is keeping costs to customers down while maintaining high quality in their products and materials.

On local considerations, Prakti says “To ingrain improved cookstoves in communities’ cultural habits, it must be possible to at least repair the stoves locally. Prakti Design goes further by promoting local assembly of its stoves. The production will be transferred from India to other countries once the stoves have a strong foothold in the local market.”  Serrar adds, “we offer local assembly as well as local production, to allow a true technology transfer.”

Recognizing their primary users and beneficiaries as a key to sales and distribution, Prakti says, “As women represent the overwhelming majority of our users, they are also best placed to promote and sell the stoves. Encouraging women entrepreneurship for the promotion and sales of the stoves will create income-generating activities at the local scale while increasing market penetration of the product.”

Prakti's offices

Prakti's offices in Pondicherry, just outside of Auroville

Prakti's workshop

Prakti's workshop

Prakti emissions testing equipment

Prakti's (very cool, close-to-nature) facilities include space for manufacturing and testing prototypes, including equipment to measure emissions

Prakti's workshop tools

Still life with workshop tools

It was a pleasure to meet Mouhsine and I look forward to keeping in touch.  He’s a friendly and knowledgeable person, clearly committed to Prakti stoves and their benefits.  We (the UnBox fellows) were lucky to enjoy a bit of his time and expertise, and I hope ongoing connections will be fruitful.

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Logo: Unreasonable Institute

UPDATE:  (March 31, 2012)  Mouhsine and Prakti won one of 25 spots and Mouhsine will be an Unreasonable Fellow this summer.  Congratulations!

Mouhsine and Prakti are currently one of 46 finalists to become Unreasonable Fellows this summer.  The Unreasonable Institute is an annual in-residence incubator and mentoring program for social entrepreneurs over 6 weeks in Boulder, Colorado.  You can learn more about Prakti and support it by voting with your donation for Mouhsine at the Unreasonable Marketplace.  The first 25 social entrepreneurs to raise $10,000 in popular support from small donations will be able to participate in the 2012 Unreasonable Institue this summer–your donations sponsor Mouhsine and the other Unreasonable Fellows to attend and benefit from the Institute.  If you like what you see, help spread the word to friends, family and via your social networks.

More about Prakti:

Website:  praktidesign.com
Blog:  praktiblog.wordpress.com
Facebook:  facebook.com/PraktiDesign

An interview with Mouhsine Serrar (Arkinet – June, 2010)

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High-efficiency cook stoves are one of many worthy solutions addressing environmental, health, financial and social issues with regard to fuels for cooking, heat and light sources.  Reducing the use of natural resources and harmful fuels and replacing them with better alternatives is beneficial to primary users and the rest of us around the world.  You might also be interested in solar cookers, biogas digesters and alternatives to kerosene for lighting like solar-charged LED lights.

For more on cookstoves, here’s a pretty comprehensive additional resource about improved cook stoves and their modern evolution: JourneyToForever.org – “Wood fires that fit”