PhD student develops tools for better implementation of cleaner cookstoves and fuels in developing countries

Energy transition for all? A third of the world's population still cooks on open fires

One third of the world's population cooks on biomass or other polluting fuels. Every year, 3.2 million people die from inhaling smoke released by open fires (SDG7 tracking report 2022). Cooking on open fires also has a major impact on the climate: it is the cause of as much as 2% of CO2 emissions. That is as much as emissions from aviation. Yet, the implementation of cleaner cookstoves and fuels is not a given. In a new study, PhD student Esther Boudewijns is therefore developing two practical tools that should improve the implementation of cleaner cooking. The results of the research will be published on June 16 in The Lancet Planetary Health.

A trust issue

The reason for the study is the lack of success in many cleaner cooking programs. Cleaner cookstoves and fuels (such as biogas and improved cookstoves) are available, yet they are often not used sustainably and structurally. Boudewijns conducted an extensive literature review and developed two tools that contain 15 factors which improve or hinder the implementation of cleaner cooking solutions. The tools also contain practical examples from previous programs. One tool focuses on cleaner cooking appliances and the other tool focuses on clean fuels.

With a stove that reduces smoke, UM researchers already made cleaner cooking possible in 2017 within the Exhale program. "It is hard for people to trust something they don't know" responds van Schayck, initiator of Exhale, to the new research. Developing a cleaner stove is an important condition for cleaner cooking, as is the use of clean fuels. Yet implementation often proves to be a problem. People need to understand the development and trust it in order to start using it structurally. Ambassadors are essential for this.

 "The relevance of the new research is the connection with practice," says Boudewijns. "There is a lot of literature on how to implement cleaner cooking solutions, but these two tools make it easier for organizations to think carefully in advance about how they want to implement the clean cooking solutions. Here you can think about how people can afford the new stove, but also whether the stove fits the cooking habits."

african clean energy
Photography: African Clean Energy

Positive side effects

Good implementation of cleaner cooking interventions not only contributes to improving health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also makes an important contribution to other social issues. By cooking with cleaner fuel or a cleaner stove, households save money, reduce deforestation and empower women. For example, because women no longer have to collect wood and therefore have more free time.

International organizations have already shown interest in the research. The intention is to develop the tools into an online interactive platform, so that organizations implementing the cleaner cooking solutions can easily find and use them.

Can the guidelines for energy transition in developing countries soon also be used in the Netherlands for the transition to cleaner fuels? Boudewijns: "I saw a remarkable number of factors that correspond between the natural gas transition in the Netherlands and the transition for clean cooking in developing countries. And those factors will now also play a role in getting us off the gas".

gezonder koken esther boudewijns
Photography: African Clean Energy

About the researcher
Esther Boudewijns is a PhD student at Maastricht University. Her research focuses on the development and evaluation of a tool that measures and visualizes disease burden of COPD, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. She is also involved in research to accelerate access to clean cooking in developing countries. She also works as a coordinator for the Dutch SPARK for Clean Cooking Solutions, a partnership between Dutch organizations focused on clean and efficient cooking. In 2020, she participated in the Young Expert Program, initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland.