Plant oil can be extracted from the fruits, grains or shoots of different kind of plants. Plant oil is an excellent energy carrier and can be used as fuel for many applications (e.g. cooking). Stoves that use plant oil follow a similar principle to conventional pressure stoves, which commonly run on petroleum or kerosene. However, for a conventional stove to run on plant oil, certain technical adaptations have to be made in order to ensure the proper combustion of the oil. In addition to the technical issues, the adoption and diffusion of the technology faces other significant challenges on a social, economic and environmental level.
The use of plant oil for cooking may become a suitable option in regions where households already rely on imported fossil fuels for cooking and where plant oil can be supplied in a sustainable way at affordable market prices. In this context, the introduction of plant oil stoves can be one means of reducing dependency on imported fuels and improving the security of energy supply of households.
Switching from fossil fuel to plant oil can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions linked to cooking. However, increasing demand for plant oil will have a particular impact on issues such as land use and agricultural practices. This means that the actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is inextricably linked to the plant oil supply system. Sustainable practice throughout the entire production chain is necessary in order to ensure that the use of plant oil positively impacts on climate change mitigation.
Providing access to cleaner and affordable energy for cooking is one of the key components in cutting the vicious cycle of poverty. Plant oil stoves offer a much cleaner way of cooking. However, guaranteeing a reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly supply of plant oil for poor population may be complicated and challenging. Thus, the use of plant oil stoves can contribute to the achievement of the MDGs in some specific contexts.
Plant oil stoves can replace conventional cooking practices that use fossil fuels e.g. kerosene or butane. This can result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. However, the actual impact on climate change and other environmental aspects is highly dependent on the sustainability of the entire production chain. The effect on land use patterns is one of the must crucial issues.
Changes in land use patterns can have both positive and negative effects:
Where a reliable, affordable and environmentally sound supply of plant oil can be guaranteed, switching from fossil fuels to plant oil for cooking can significantly improve the security of energy supply for communities or countries. However the socio-economic impact of the additional production of oily crops should be thoroughly evaluated before promoting the massive adoption of the technology. Additionally, promoting the acceptance of new cooking practices may be a challenge.
Biomass resources play a key role in economic and social development. Critical issues are directly related to the management of biomass resources, including food security, land use, land ownership and agricultural and forestry development.
In best-case scenarios, the increasing demand for oily plants may add value to the produce of local farmers and translate into additional income. On the other hand, the rising demand may also result in a concentration of land ownership, competing land uses (energy v. food crops), higher food prices and poor people facing deeper poverty.
Strategies that aim to promote plant oil stoves must take the social realities of the target region into account, e.g. by:
The social impacts of promoting the use of plant oil for cooking are, therefore, case-specific and must be carefully assessed at the very outset of projects that aim to promote plant oil stoves.
Food is one essential element of cultural identity. To some extent, cooking practices are also entrenched in tradition. Attempting to change cooking habits may result in cultural resistance. In this context, it is more likely that users who are already familiar with conventional pressure stoves become early adopters of plant oil stoves.
Additionally, certain features of plant oil stoves can make the technology less favourable for adoption. Some notable examples include noise during operation, laborious maintenance and difficulties with the supply of fuel.1
Although the pressure stove is a well-established technology, the use of plant oil for cooking is a new development that is still at the test phase. One company in particular is taking important steps in the research and development of the technology.
The Protos stove has been tested (2004–2006) in different regions (Philippines and Tanzania). It has a power range of 2.0–2.5 kW and can burn with an efficiency of 45–55 %.
The aim is to produce the stove locally and to ensure that the stove is only produced where sustainable production plant oil is available. The manufacturer reported that the stove is being 100% produced in Indonesia and arround 1600 stoves had already been sold.2
Two main issues define the economic viability of plant oil stoves as an alternative for cooking needs: the market price of the stoves and a reliable supply of affordable plant oil.
The manufacturing cost of a plant oil stove is reported to be around US$ 50.3 Depending on local market conditions, the cost of a plant oil stove can be competitive when compared to certain conventional technologies such as stoves running on butane or electricity. However for users of low-cost technologies (e.g. solid biomass stoves) the price will very likely be more than they can afford.
The plant oil demand of an average family (based on 4–5 people) is 2–4 litres per week or 100–200 litres per year.4, 3 Depending on the plant oil market conditions, investing in plant oil stoves may be an attractive option for people who are already users of more advanced technologies such as LPG and some kerosene stoves.
Oil can be extracted from different crops such as coconuts, sunflowers, rapeseed, jatropha, castor beans, cottonseeds, peanuts, etc. In many countries locally produced plant oil is already a conventional product and large international markets for some plant oils also exist. In some regions, the additional demand for plant oil (as fuel for cooking) could be met by local markets and/or local production.
Recent studies show that in some regions the market price of plant oil is generally higher than the price for wood fuel but it can be competitive in relation to kerosene.5 This means that in regions that have the potential to produce plant oils (or already do so) and where the market price of plant oil is (or can become) competitive in comparison to conventional fuel, plant oil stoves can become a suitable cooking option for households that depend on fossil fuel for cooking.
Encouraging the many people who rely on solid biomass for cooking to switch to plant oil stoves is, however, a particular challenge. To overcome this barrier, significant financial support will be needed to enable individuals to purchase plant oil stoves and different kind of entrepreneurs to develop sustainable supply chains and markets for plant oil and stoves. The participation in carbon markets is regarded as one promising option to obtain resources that help to close financial gaps.