About Us: FAQs

Q: What is Potential Energy? What happened to the Darfur Stoves Project?
Q: Why not use solar stoves?
Q: Why not use clay stoves?
Q: How much do your stoves cost to make?
Q: Do you distribute the stoves for free or sell them?
Q: How can I obtain a stove?
Q: Can I have the plans to the Berkeley-Darfur/Berkeley-Ethiopia Stove?
Q: Can you expand to my area?
Q: How do you measure a stove’s impact?
Q: Why don’t you produce the Berkeley-Darfur Stove in Sudan?
Q: Why firewood? Shouldn’t you distribute a stove that uses a different fuel source?
Q: Doesn’t shipping the Berkeley-Darfur Stove kits from India to Sudan cancel out the stoves’ reduction in carbon emissions?

Q: What is Potential Energy? What happened to the Darfur Stoves Project?
A: Potential Energy is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3), and is the parent organization of the Darfur Stoves Project. We have the same staff and partners. We’ve changed our name to reflect our expanded role as a technology catalyst – disseminating cookstoves outside of Darfur as well as other technologies to the world’s poorest. Our experience in Darfur has convinced us that the opportunity is ripe; that there are many technologies out there just waiting to be refined, adapted, scaled and distributed. The many groups working to help poverty-affected people – engineers, humanitarian organizations, local distributers – are awaiting a uniting force to help unleash the full potential of their efforts. Potential Energy is that uniting force.

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Q: Why not use solar stoves?
A: A solar stove is more like an oven than a stove – it works best with food that is cooked slowly over several hours with no stirring (such as rice). In Darfur, traditional meals are continuously stirred over high heat. The promotion of solar ovens would require a complete change of cooking styles, food eaten, and available ingredients – a logistical and psychological feat. In addition, solar ovens cannot be used to cook a morning meal (because there is not enough sun) – and this meal would still require firewood. Given the low durability of low-cost solar ovens (based on cardboard), and the comparable amount of firewood wood that could be saved, we favor durable fuel-efficient cookstoves that can preserve cooking traditions and are more likely to be integrated into Darfuri households.

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Q. Why not clay or mud stoves?
A: In controlled settings, some well-made clay stoves use less fuel than the traditional open fire, and raw materials are cheaper than for a metal stove. However, tests of clay stoves in the field show that they save minimal (if any) fuel in actual use. It is too difficult to retain subtle but key design features as clay stoves are built by unskilled workers. Construction of a clay stove is laborious, and the cost and production time increase dramatically if a highly skilled craftsman is required. Metal stoves can be cut quickly and accurately, and then assembled by an unskilled worker in a way that does not compromise performance. Extensive lab and field testing of well-made clay stoves also shows that metal stoves save more fuel, even in controlled settings.

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Q: How much do the stoves cost to make?
A: The cost of assembling Berkeley-Darfur Stove flat-kits, shipping them by boat to Port Sudan, and transporting them overland to the camps and rural areas is approximately $20. This cost fluctuates depending on the production level of workers in the assembly shops, as well as the variable prices of fuel and steel. In Ethiopia, we plan to fully manufacture the Berkeley-Ethiopia Stove in country, which should significantly reduce costs.

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Q: Do you distribute the stoves for free or sell them?
A: Ideally, we believe the stoves should be sold, even if they are highly subsidized. “Sold” because we want to make sure the stoves are seen as valuable by our users – and selling them is an important way of getting feedback on whether our product continues to meet users’ needs. We fundraise to subsidize the cost of the stoves and the many other costs associated with our work (training assembly shop workers, training users on the most fuel-efficient cooking methods, and so on). We are exploring different distribution models with our local partners such as how much to sell them for and which offers appeal the most to consumers.

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Q: How can I obtain a stove?
A: Unfortunately, we do not keep a large number of stoves on hand in our Berkeley office. Because the cost and logistics of producing the stove here in the United States would be prohibitive we do not have any plans to mass produce the stoves as a consumer good in the United States. Furthermore, the Berkeley-Darfur and Berkeley-Ethiopia Stoves has been specifically designed for users, taking into account the type of fuel available, the climate, the shapes of the traditional pots, the cooking temperatures for the local traditional foods, etc. If you are looking to purchase a stove for a family in Darfur or Ethiopia, you can do so by making a donation.

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Q: Can I have the plans to the Berkeley-Darfur/Berkeley-Ethiopia Stove?
A: The Berkeley-Darfur and Berkeley-Ethiopia Stoves’ design belongs to our partner, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. For this reason, we are unable to provide plans to the stove.

One of the goals of Potential Energy is to ensure the quality of the stoves that are built because an improperly built stove can pose a safety risk and decrease fuel-efficiency. Proper training is necessary to ensure that the correct materials are used, and the proper assembly method is employed.

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Q: Can you expand to my area?
A: The Berkeley-Darfur and Berkeley-Ethiopia Stoves have been specifically designed to fit user preferences and local customs, and would need to be modified for users in other places. Because we have only satisfied a small portion of the demand in our current project areas, we are continuing to focus our efforts there. As Potential Energy grows, we will gradually expand our efforts and introduce a cookstove project in a third location as well as new technologies.

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Q: How do you measure a stove’s impact?
A: The impact assessment surveys we conducted in 2010 have enabled us to quantify the impact of the Darfur Stoves Project on the livelihoods of women in Darfur. For example, the survey revealed that in order to avoid the risk of attack when gathering firewood, 80% of stove users in Zam Zam camp (the largest displacement camp in Darfur) now purchase firewood from vendors. The data from this survey indicates that by far the most significant impact of the stove is on livelihoods, with families saving $0.95 per day on firewood expenses. The Berkeley-Darfur Stove is predicted to last five years, which means that over the lifetime of the stove, it can save a family in Zam Zam more than $1,700. We continue to work with our partners to strengthen monitoring and evaluation, aiming to provide further insight into the impact of our work. For more information on laboratory testing please visit our partner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s cookstove website.

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Q: Why don’t you produce the Berkeley-Darfur Stove in Sudan?
A: We conducted a supply chain study which revealed that the full production of stoves in Sudan would be extremely costly due to lack of access to the correct materials and equipment and a lower production capacity. The study also revealed that shipping fully assembled stoves from India would be significantly more costly than assembling them locally in Darfur. For this reason, we chose to use a hybrid approach combining aspects of mass manufacturing and local production. Shri Hari Industries, the Mumbai-based factory that stamps the stove design into flat sheets of metal can produce 60,000 stove “flat-kits” per year with a single shift of workers. To keep costs low, the flat-kits are shipped to Sudan and assembled locally at the Berkeley-Darfur Stove assembly shop. With increased manufacturing opportunities in Ethiopia, we plan to fully produce the Berkeley-Ethiopia Stove in Ethiopia.

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Q. Why firewood? Shouldn’t you distribute a stove that uses a different fuel source?
A: The team of engineers who developed the Berkeley-Darfur Stove explored several options during their initial fact-finding mission to Darfur in 2005. In other parts of the world there are currently projects underway converting agricultural waste and animal dung into fuel pellets to be used as cooking fuel. However, in the context of Darfur this is not feasible as there is very little agriculture and very few livestock. Even when these resources are available, developing these alternative fuel sources requires establishing an elaborate supply chain, setting up manufacturing facilities and distribution channels to supply a steady stream of fuel to end users. It is a long term effort that we keep in mind and will work toward. Propane and kerosene are substantially more expensive to procure, and are just as expensive to distribute as firewood. Both these fuels require specialized appliances to burn them – an additional expense. Kerosene also represents a significant fire hazard in the straw huts that many of our stove users live in. Charcoal is readily available for purchase in the camps in Darfur but is relatively expensive, with many households using it as a minor fuel, principally for brewing tea. Producing charcoal is also extremely fuel-intensive. Most of the chemical energy of wood is not retained in the charcoal that is produced from the wood, making it more efficient and beneficial to use firewood at this time.

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Q: Doesn’t shipping the Berkeley-Darfur Stove kits from India to Sudan cancel out the stoves’ reduction in carbon emissions?
A: In the lifecycle of a stove, there are four major sources of carbon emissions: raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, and stove use. Of these sources, transportation actually accounts for less than one quarter of one percent (.22% exactly) of the total carbon emissions produced over the 5-year lifetime of the stove. As a result, the carbon emissions from transporting the flat-kits are cancelled out after about 8 days of using the Berkeley-Darfur Stove.

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