With increasing evidence that inefficient traditional chullahs — cooking stoves — in rural households are the largest source of indoor air pollution, scientists at the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have developed a multi-fuel improved cookstove with a high overall thermal efficiency and reduced fuel consumption.
The Global Burden of Disease 2012 comparative risk assessment exercise showed that exposure to PM 2.5 around households from use of solid cooking fuels (household air pollution) plus exposure in the ambient environment was responsible for approximately 1.6 million premature deaths in India. Together, the household air pollution and ambient air pollution account for 9 per cent of the national disease burden.
Dr Rakesh Kumar, Director, CSIR-NEERI, said they developed the cookstove under the CSIR-800 programme, which aims to benefit underprivileged people. After field demonstrations, it was found that the new cookstove, called ‘Neerdhur’, has 33 per cent thermal efficiently with reduced emissions by at least 60 per cent. “We have licensed the know-how to a few entrepreneurs,” said Dr Kumar. Dr Nitin Labhsetwar, Professor, Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research, Energy and Resource Management Division of NEERI, told The Indian Express that Neerdhur has been extensively tested in the lab and field.
In simple traditional cookstoves, biomass combustion produces a range of toxic products resulting from incomplete combustion, including PM 2.5, carbon monoxide, aldehydes and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, among others, he said. Availability of free biomass and agriculture residue will be an important reason for continued use of cookstoves in poor rural households. At least 630 million people, mostly from rural areas, are expected to continue using solid fuels a decade from now.
“This poses a challenge for clean cooking access for rural Indians who still use inefficient devices like chullahs and shidgis,” said Dr Labhsetwar.
Annapurna — a short film on harmful effects of biomass in cooking
Researchers at KEM hospital and research centre have made a 40-minute film ‘Annapurna’ that depicts the harmful effects of biomass use in cooking. The film will be released on February 22 at the National Science Film Festival in Guwahati. ‘Annapurna’ literally means “the goddess who provides food” and Indians have been worshipping cookstoves as Annapurna for ages. Although the harmful effects of biomass use for cooking (respiratory, pulmonary and vision) are known, acceptance of modern fuels, like Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) by the community is still a challenge, says Rutuja Patil, a young scientist at the KEM hospital who conceptualised the film.
Exposure of pregnant women to indoor air pollution (IAP) results in lower birth weights leading to further complications. Women and children are highly affected by IAP and it is important to imbibe the idea of changing cooking practices and clarifying the perceptions of LPG use in the community, Patil said. Government programmes have encouraged the use of modern fuel, yet the majority of the population still relies on biomass as a primary source of cooking.