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Powered By Sound Revolutionary Stove Could Help Reduce Poverty

Two billion people use open fires as their primary cooking method.
by Staff Writers
Nottingham UK (SPX) May 16, 2007
It's a cooker, a fridge and a generator in one - and it could have a huge impact on the lives of people in the world's poorest communities. The 2m pound SCORE (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) project brings together experts from across the world to develop a wood-powered generator capable of both cooking and cooling food.

By developing an affordable, versatile domestic appliance SCORE aims to address the energy needs of rural communities in Africa and Asia, where access to power is extremely limited.

Across the world, two billion people use open fires as their primary cooking method. These fires have been found to be highly inefficient, with 93 per cent of the energy generated lost. And when used in enclosed spaces, smoke from the fires can cause health problems.

Led by the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Nottingham, the project team will use thermoacoustic technology for the first time to convert biomass fuels into energy, powering the stove, fridge and generator.

Thermoacoustics refers to the generation of sound waves through the non-uniform heating of gas - illustrated by the 'singing' of hot glass vessels which can be heard during the glass blowing process. This phenomena has been known for centuries, but could offer new possibilities in the energy conversion process.

The concept of the proposed device is based on proven thermoacoustic engines and refrigerators developed for applications such as combustion-fired natural gas liquefaction and radioisotope-fuelled electric power generation. Los Alamos Laboratories, in collaboration with several industrial partners, has played a lead role in the development of thermoacoustic technology.

Using thermoacoustic technology is a more efficient way of using wood as a fuel than using an open fire to cook. It produces less pollutants. The device will also have few moving parts making in more reliable.

This moving part, the linear alternator, would be developed at The University of Nottingham in conjunction with GP Acoustics, a company which produces loudspeaker equipment.

Professor Mark Johnson of the University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering said: "Two things excite me about this project: first we're taking technology concepts from satellite and military applications to deliver appropriate technology to some of the world's poorest rural communities and second we're integrating technologies in a novel way to deliver a totally new concept in energy conversion. One of the biggest engineering challenges will be to ensure that the majority of the developed system can be built and maintained within the community that uses it."

Mark Dodd, Research Manager GP Acoustics, said: "We at GP Acoustics and our manufacturing partner Dai-ichi in the Philippines are delighted that technology originally created for the leisure market is being used to help improve the lives of people in developing countries."

The University of Manchester, Imperial College London and Queen Mary, University of London are partners in the project - from researching engine design to the manufacture and distribution of the stove in the developing world. The project will work with governments, universities and civil organisation across Africa and Asia, many of whom have already offered support.

This collaboration will ensure the device is affordable, socially acceptable and that there is scope for communities to develop businesses to manufacture and repair locally.

Professor Maksud Helali, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology has offered his support. "Bangladesh's energy infrastructure is relatively small and inefficient, even to low income standards, and its access to energy is difficult," he said.

"An efficient, expanding energy system is essential for accelerated economic growth and poverty alleviation. Industry and commerce depend on readily available, reliable, reasonably-priced energy to operate and expand. It will improve the quality of people's lives."

Researchers from Los Alamos Laboratories are also supporting the project, along with Practical Action, a charity which promotes the development of sustainable technology to tackle poverty in developing countries. The SCORE consortium is funded by grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of its initiative on energy and international development.

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