Social business Emerging Cooking Solutions, co-founded by UWC Atlantic College alumnus Mattias Ohlson, has been working in Zambia since 2010 and is now well on its way to catalyse an energy revolution in Africa.Traditional cooking stoves, such as the charcoal mbaula in Zambia, are used by a majority of people in African countries south of Sahara. They generate toxic emissions, which WHO has estimated kills four million people annually from indoor air pollution - more than both HIV and malaria. For people living in cities, the charcoal is extremely expensive, ending up costing a family $20 per month - a huge financial burden of up to 15% of the total household income. The forests too are taking a heavy toll from the charcoal production: a typical household using one ton of charcoal per year for cooking will contribute to six ton virgin Miombo-forest being cut down (about six large trees) every year.
Emerging Cooking Solutions produces pellets in Zambia from waste biomass, which are sold 40% cheaper than charcoal, while maintaining sound margins for the company. The company supplies a range of affordable cooking stoves using the so-called gasifying technology. The combustion is clean and users report saving not only money but up to one hour per day. Both Mattias and the other founder Per Löfberg have a background in Cradle to Cradle-design and see their company as one attempting to restore ‘healthy, large-scale material flows’ on the planet.
‘Instead of people making their meal on beautiful Miombo forest, which will not recover when cut down, moving the carbon stored there to the atmosphere, we create burnable pellets from renewable waste biomass, which does not add to the carbon in the atmosphere’, says Mattias. The beauty of the gasifying stoves and pellets, he says, is that the residue is not ash but charred pellets. When applied to soil, they will improve soil health and remain intact for a long time, thus storing carbon in the soil for up to 1000 years. Since the biomass will be renewed, adding the charred pellets to soil actually contribute to what one day could be a reversal of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. With pellets and gasifying stoves, we believe we are starting to catalyse an energy revolution in Africa, eventually making countries self-sufficient on a high-grade fuel made from agricultural waste such as stover, straw and grasses.
Mattias Ohlson, class of 1991 from Sweden