Kyoto Box Aids Sustainable Development

A solar cooker called the "Kyoto Box" aims to transform the lives of millions of people who currently live on less than a dollar a day. The simple, cheap, and highly portable box functions as a solar-powered oven, allowing people to save the time and energy now needed to gather firewood for cooking, and also eliminating the carbon dioxide released by their cooking fires.

According to Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future: “The Kyoto Box has the potential to transform millions of lives and is a model of scalable, sustainable innovation. We were impressed by Jon Bohmer’s entrepreneurial verve and his winning combination of a simple, practical product, affordable financial mechanisms, and the use of grassroots organisations to roll it out.”

The initial prototype was made of cardboard but later models are made of polypropylene, a material that is ultra-light, strong and available at low cost. The box packs flat for easy transportation and requires no tools to unpack and use.

The Kyoto Box generates heat by letting sunlight pass through a transparent acrylic cover into a cooking chamber, where it converts to heat via the "greenhouse effect." Inside the cooking chamber, black cooking vessels absorb that heat and allow food to be cooked and water to be boiled. The upper lid of the box can be angled during early morning and late evening hours to reflect more sunlight into the cooking chamber. In full sun, temperatures inside the cooking chamber can reach 110C (230F).

The company which developed this solar cooker, Kyoto Energy, is setting up local distributors and resellers from its offices in Kenya, South Africa and Indonesia, as well as in India. The plan is to involve grassroots groups, particularly women’s groups, in communicating the benefits of the solar cooker to local communities.

Eventually, the company plans to distribute the Kyoto Box in West and North Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

Benefits of using the Kyoto box include:

1. It helps reduce indoor smoke pollution, which the World Health Organisation estimates to cause 1.6 million deaths each year.

2. It boils and purifies water, potentially saving the lives of about 3.4 million children who die each year from diseases spread by unclean drinking water, according to the WHO.

3. It reduces injuries caused by carrying heavy firewood long distances, and by the dangers (including risk of rape, attacks from animals, and landmine injuries) of gathering wood in remote areas.

4. It saves the time now spent finding and bringing home firewood. This can mean, among other things, that children will have more time to attend school.

5. It cooks food slowly, which helps to retain certain vitamins.

6. By reducing the need for firewood, it reduces deforestation, loss of topsoil and landslides.

7. It reduces CO2 emissions.

8. It reduces the danger of fire in and around homes.

9. It reduces the need to buy fossil fuels like kerosene and other cooking fuels, which allows families to use their meager incomes to meet other needs.

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Photo credit: Kyoto Energy