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Wood Energy Conservation

Households - Improved stoves - Industries - Interventions - RWEDP activities - Further reading - Other issues in wood energy

Most households and industries in Asia, particularly in rural areas, use wood energy for various purposes. The equipment that they use, like cookstoves, ovens and kilns is generally simple, made from locally available materials, and of poor quality (smoky and inconvenient). Efficiencies are low, because a lot of the heat is lost to the surroundings. This means there is a large scope for improvement of technologies and fuel conservation.

In the early seventies, as a reaction to the oil crisis and concern for forest resources, improved cookstove programs were seen as a possible solution to the fuelwood crisis and a means to reduce fuelwood demand. Several programs have been implemented since then, with varying success. The early programs focussed strongly on stove efficiency and fuelwood saving, and many programs failed because they ignored the requirements of the users. Subsequently, interest in energy issues diminished because of decreasing oil prices, and funding of improved cookstoves programs reduced, so many programs came to an end. There is no evidence that improved cookstoves have led to reduced wood energy demand, let alone reduced deforestation, but improved cookstoves can bring several social benefits. So, current programs pay more attention to user needs, which, besides fuel saving, include cooking comfort, smoke free kitchens, convenience, health and safety.


Household fireThe main use of wood energy by households is for cooking, for which several types of stoves are used. The simplest and oldest one is the three-stone fire, built by arranging three stones in a triangle around a fire, so the cooking pot can be put on the stones. A variation is the tripod, a metal ring with three legs, which is widely used in Asia. Major drawbacks are dispersion of flames and heat because of the wind, poor control over the fire, exposure to heat and smoke, and fire hazard.

Over time other stoves have been developed to overcome these problems. These are either fixed in the house or portable, and come with or without a chimney. They are self-made from local materials by households, installed by local stove builders or purchased on the market. Locally available material that can be used for building stoves differs from area to area. While in some areas only mud is available, in other areas even car wheels are used to make stoves. Still many of these stoves are of poor quality and have shortcomings. People try to improve their stoves gradually but generally they lack the financial and technical means to achieve major improvements.

Improved Stoves

Improved cookstoves programs can help to bridge this gap. They do not require a lot of money, but they need a long-term commitment of donor and implementing organizations. Governments, NGOs and donors can provide stove makers with technical and managerial assistance, e.g. surveys to determine user needs, advice during design of the stoves, testing of materials, provision of loans, advice about budgeting, marketing and quality control, and training programs in stove making. They can also contribute by promoting stoves in publicity campaigns. The ultimate goal of a stove program should be to reach self-sustainability of the production and distribution of improved cookstoves.

Improved cookstove programs can fail or succeed depending on several factors. They have a higher chance of success in areas where people already buy both the stove and the fuel, so they have an incentive to save on fuel use and they are willing to pay for a better stove. Also when timesaving is considered valuable or smoke is a problem for users, they tend to adopt an improved stove easier.

Improved stovesIn stove design and production several factors play a role. Preferably, surveys should be undertaken to find out if there is an interest and market for improved stoves. Stoves should be designed according to user preferences, they should be designed with assistance from local artisans, and the stoves should perform the same functions as the ones used traditionally. User preferences may be different from area to area, so within a country different stove designs may exist. Gender aspects are important here, because users are generally women.

In the design several factors have to be considered, e.g. social factors (how, by whom and for what are stoves used), technical factors (power output, possible fuel type and size, and the use of locally available material), economic factors (cost of production, purchasing power, cash availability, payback period), and environmental factors (emissions, safety). Also the fuels that are used play an important role, because different stoves are needed for wood, charcoal and loose residues. Stoves should be produced by local manufacturers, preferably with minimal or no subsidy. Also the subsidy for the stove purchase should be minimal, because generally people don't value things that are given for free. One problem with stove production is that over time the stoves tend to differ from the original design, so monitoring and quality control are needed.


Also for woodfuel using industries there is scope for improvement and conservation. These industries can be grouped in seven categories:

  1. Agro-processing industries, like tobacco and tea leaf processing, rice-milling, sugar production, rubber sheet smoking, and processing of coffee and cocoa. Fuelwood and other biomass are used to dry or boil the products and to produce steam and electricity for mechanical power. Some processes use their own residues, like rice-husks, bagasse, and coconut shells, to generate steam and electricity.

  2. Food processing industries like bakeries, dairy products, distilleries and fish smoking. Fuelwood is used to fire ovens, boil products and generate steam and smoke.

  3. Metal processing industries, like blacksmiths, foundries and brass and bronze casting, which mostly use charcoal.

  4. Mineral-based industries, brick making, lime burning and ceramics, which use fuelwood and other biomass in kilns or mounds.

  5. Wood products, like timber drying, particle board, plywood and saw-milling. Wood residues of the processes are often used to produce heat for drying the wood.

  6. Textile-based industries, like fabric dyeing, and silk yarn processing, which use woodfuels for boiling and to produce steam.

  7. Miscellaneous activities, like ceremonies, cremations, road tarring and soap manufacturing.


There are three types of interventions that can be made for energy conservation by industries, i.e. housekeeping measures, process improvements and major equipment changes.
Conservation through housekeeping measures is generally cheap and easy to implement, and can be introduced by factory owners themselves without external technical assistance. Examples are drying and proper sizing of fuel, consistent fuel feeding, and proper control of secondary and primary air in kilns. What is often needed is to create awareness of the possibilities through publicity campaigns, promotion and demonstrations.
Process improvements are generally also easy to introduce, but besides raising awareness they require some technical assistance from outside, because small-scale rural industries often do not have the capabilities to implement these improvements.
Major equipment changes will require technical and managerial assistance and back-up service. In some cases also financial assistance may be needed, e.g. the provision of loans. Modern examples of major equipment changes are combined heat and power generation and co-generation.

RWEDP activities

RWEDP has organized several regional and national workshops and trainings on conservation, particularly related to stoves, e.g. stoves for institutional use and small-scale industries, stoves for cooking and heating, and stoves for loose residues. In cooperation with the Asian Regional Cookstove Programme (ARECOP), a training of trainers on stove selection and dissemination has been held. This training is being followed up by national training courses.

Concerning conservation by industries, for five types of industries 'state of the art' manuals will be developed with the help of regional experts. These industries are brick and roof tile making, lime burning, tobacco curing, small-scale sugar processing, and timber drying. If possible, the manuals will be made available in national languages.

Further reading:

Improved Solid Biomass Burning Cookstoves: A Development Manual, Field Document 44
Report of the Regional Workshop on Stoves Used for Space Heating and Cooking at Different Altitudes and/by Ethnic Groups, RM 28
Improved Cook Stoves Programmes: Some Lessons from Asia, Paper

Other Issues in Wood Energy

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© FAO-RWEDP, 1999