Scaling up a cleaner-burning alternative for cookstoves

Mechanical engineering students in MIT D-Lab are working with collaborators in Uganda to scale-up a solution for the health risks associated with wood-burning cookstoves


Credit: Photo: John Freidah

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – For millions of people globally, cooking in their own homes can be detrimental to their health and oftentimes deadly. The World Health Organization estimates that 3.8 million people a year die as a result of the soot and smoke generated in traditional wood-burning cookstoves. Women and children in particular are at risk of pneumonia, stroke, lung cancer, or low birth weight. MIT D-Lab collaborator Betty Ikalany is working to eliminate health risks associated with cookstoves in Uganda by developing a cleaner alternative using charcoal briquettes. A new video and MIT News article chronicle a team of students and staff from MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and MIT D-Lab who are collaborating with Ikalany on scaling-up this solution to maximize impact.

“Ten thousand women die annually in Uganda because of inhaling smoke from cookstoves,” says Ikalany, executive director of Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies (AEST). In 2012, Ikalany met Amy Smith, founding director of MIT D-Lab, who introduced her to D-Lab’s method of manufacturing briquettes that produce no soot and very little smoke. Ikalany saw an opportunity to use this technology in Uganda and founded AEST that same year. She started assembling a team to produce and distribute the briquettes.

Made of charcoal dust, carbonized agricultural waste such as peanut shells and corn husks, and a cassava-water porridge, which acts as a binding agent, the briquettes are wet initially. To be usable in a cookstove, they must be completely dried. In ideal sunny conditions, it takes three days for the briquettes to dry. Inclement weather or humidity can substantially slow down the evaporation needed to dry the briquettes.

“The drying of the briquettes is the bottleneck of the whole process,” says Danielle Gleason, a senior studying mechanical engineering at MIT. “In order scale up production and keep growing as a business, Betty and her team realized that they needed to improve the drying process.”

Gleason was one of several students who connected to Ikalany through MIT D-Lab courses. She worked with a team of students on various designs for a new drying system. They developed three different designs for tent-like structures that could facilitate drying at all times – even when raining.

Last January, during MIT’s Independent Activity Period, Gleason traveled to Uganda to put these designs to the test. She and her fellow students spent several weeks troubleshooting dryer designs with Ikalany and her team. The team ended up designing covered dryers that allowed the briquettes to dry in both sun and rain, increasing the overall throughput.

“We believe that once we are able to scale up what we have learned from Danielle and her team we should be able to produce five times more a day,” says Ikalany. “Our production capacity will increase and the demand for customers will be met.”


Additional background



Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies

MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering


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Mary Beth Gallagher
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Original Source