Duke Cookstove Initiative Tackles Global Environmental Health Issue

The Duke Cookstove Initiative, a cross-campus collaboration between social scientists, biomedical researchers and environmental scientists, has undertaken the study of improved cookstove adoption and use in less developed countries.

Traditional cookstoves are still used by nearly half of the global population. In rural villages across India women hunch over mud stoves fueled by small pieces of wood or patties made from animal dung. Breathing in the particles emitted by these inefficient stoves in poorly ventilated conditions causes 2 million premature deaths per year. Gathering fuel degrades local forests and wildlife habitat, and stove emissions of black carbon (a potent greenhouse pollutant) from inefficient combustion raise regional temperatures.

Jessica Lewis, far right, a research associate at the Sanford School, assists with household surveys in Orissa, India.
Photo credit: Arulselvan Sadasvan

Improved cookstoves have been developed to burn more efficiently, addressing these problems. Their benefits include health improvements for women and children and reduced time spent cooking or gathering fuel. However, there are many barriers to adoption. Giving someone a cookstove does not mean they will use it correctly, if at all. A particular focus of the Duke Cookstove Initiative is to refine theories on behavior change to understand which types of interventions can increase the adoption and use of improved cookstoves.

Global attention to cookstoves has steadily increased, culminating in the formation of the United Nations’ Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and research at Duke has similarly escalated. Previously, a few faculty members at Sanford—Subhrendu Pattanayak, Alex Pfaff and Marc Jeuland— researched different components of cookstove use.

The cookstove initiative now incorporates faculty and students across campus, including doctors John Hollingsworth, William M. Foster and Peter Kussin in the pulmonary medicine Department and professors Prasad Kasibhatla and Joel Meyer in the Nicholas School of the Environment. So far, Duke researchers have produced nine cookstove-related peer reviewed publications, six master’s projects and one dissertation. In May, a Cookstove Symposium highlighted related research projects from around Duke.

 Duke researchers conducted a systematic review of the literature that showed important determinants of movement from dirty to cleaner fuel are socio-economic status and fuel prices, although potentially important drivers of adoption such as credit and social marketing have been ignored.

In collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Duke master’s of environmental management students Julie Colvin and Elise Vergnano studied factors that underlie stove dissemination and partner location. They used data from a survey of approximately 200 members in the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air from 2008 to 2010. Stove sales were influenced by product characteristics, such as testing and price, and institutional characteristics, such as organizational type and mission.

Using 14 years of data from the Indonesian Family Life Survey, Jesses Lamarre-Vincent MPP'11 examined the determinants of a household's decisions to switch to cleaner burning fuels and impacts of fuel choice on respiratory health outcomes. He found that electricity and indoor water access, urban location, education and income are all positively correlated with clean fuel choice.

Monte Carlo simulations by Jeuland and Pattanayak suggest there is substantial heterogeneity in benefits of improved cookstove programs because of uncertainty surrounding many behavioral parameters.

Ipsita Das MPP’12 and T.J. Lowdermilk MPP’12 spent the summer in Orissa, India, conducting initial field visits and designing a survey of 200 households for research on improved cookstove adoption and use, lung function and indoor air pollution levels. The stoves in this study burn biogas released by cow dung stored in an underground tank. Biogas plants have the potential to provide a clean fuel source from local waste–if the plant is properly constructed and households choose to use the stove. Funding for this project came from the Office of the Provost.

Jessica Lewis has an MSPH in environmental science and engineering from UNC-Chapel Hill and will join the Nicholas School of the Environment PhD program in January 2012.