Envirofit ramps clean-cooking line for India

The demand for clean cooking in India has prompted Fort Collins, Colo.-based Envirofit International to increase its 2009 production of biomass stoves.

The ‘cookstoves’ reduce toxic emissions by as much as 80 percent, use 50 percent less fuel and reduce cooking cycle time by 40 percent, according to Envirofit, a 501(c)3 nonprofit backed by the Shell Foundation, a charity established by the Shell Group in 2000.

The stoves sell for Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,000 ($10 to $40 USD). Since the line launched in May, Envirofit has sold 15,000 stoves and expects to reach 25,000 before the end of the year, according to co-founder and Vice President of Operations Tim Bauer.

Next year, Envirofit plans to sell 300,000, Bauer told the Cleantech Group.

“The reduced air pollution is resonating with the villagers in India,” Bauer said. “They don’t want to have dirty houses, and they want to have clean air inside their homes.”

Envirofit’s cookstoves are tackling a major problem facing developing nations.

According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from solid-fuel use is responsible for more than 1.6 million annual deaths, including 800,000 children younger than five.

Almost half the world’s population cooks daily meals indoors with biomass-fueled fires. Up to 20 percent of the biomass is converted into toxic substances like carbon monoxide, benzene and formaldehyde.

But Envirofit says its stoves use a proprietary process to improve combustion efficiency, leading to less fuel being used and fewer toxic emissions. The company worked with Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory for R&D and testing.

Comparable stoves typically sell for Rs. 250 to Rs. 1,000.

“Traditional cookstoves in India are replaced on an annual or semiannual basis, whereas our stove has a targeted life of five years,” Bauer said. “When you’re coming in the neighborhood of comparable price points but last five times as long, it’s even better economics.”

The stoves use wood, crop waste, coconut husks or other readily available biomass in each locale. The company has developed seven models for varying climates and cooking needs in India, as well as different sizes.

Initially, Envirofit sells the stove in southern India at 250 retail outlets through a network of distributors. The company hopes to expand sales throughout the country and into other developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The company is seeking additional investors for that expansion.

The company estimated it would cost $25 million to sells 10 million stoves in India in the next five years and is actively fund-raising to meet that goal.

So far, Envirofit is selling the stoves at production cost to distributors and stores, who then take a small margin. As economies of scale are reached with increased production, Envirofit hopes to generate a profit so that it can create a sustainable business model, Bauer said.

The stoves are currently manufactured in China with local assembly in India, Bauer said.

Sales have largely been to residential customers, Bauer said. The microfinance model in India has helped residents and distributors adopt the product, he said.

Other products by Envirofit include a direct-injection retrofit kit for dirty, two-stroke engines that reduces emissions by 8 percent and fuel consumption by up to 40 percent, Bauer said. The $300 to $350 product is commercially available in the Philippines but has potential in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and India, he said.

The company is also looking to improve lighting and water purification, either through its own R&D or working with other companies to help them break into the Indian market.

Envirofit has about 50 employees worldwide.

Other cleantech companies are tackling indoor air quality in developing nations, including d.light design, a Mountain View, Calif.-based LED and CFL maker that unveiled three product lines in June that could be used to replace kerosene lamps.