UI researcher helps rural Indians cook more efficiently, improving health and reducing emissions

H.S. Udaykumar
H.S. Udaykumar
KC McGinnis | December 17, 2015

A small metal cooking insert developed by a University of Iowa researcher may help improve the health of thousands of women and children in rural India while reducing emissions and firewood consumption.

UI Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering H.S. Udaykumar visited the western Indian region of Rajasthan earlier this year to see how he could prevent deforestation in a region where most cooking is done with firewood. The harvesting of firewood from nearby forests has led to decreases in biodiversity, including the disappearance of tigers in the area.

The solution he found, however, may also have substantial positive effects on the health of residents of the area, especially the people who use firewood to cook.

Women in the Rajasthan region use three stone hearths to do most of their cooking, which release smoke and soot that are emitted into the air and which settle in the poorly ventilated homes, often causing lung disease. Udaykumar hoped to introduce high-efficiency cookstoves to the women in the region, but many refused because of the cost. His answer: small grates that could be inserted into the stoves.

These grates increase the efficiency of the stoves, decreasing wood consumption by 60 percent and emissions by as much as 90 percent. The inserts cost about $1 apiece.

While reducing smoke and soot in rural homes is the most visible effect of the grates, reducing carbon emissions will on the whole create better public health conditions. Higher carbon dioxide levels in the air lead plants to produce more pollen, causing dramatic increases in childhood asthma since the 1980s.

Udaykumar hopes to continue researching on the effectiveness of these grates this winter. See more about his work in Iowa Now.

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