Giving Compass' Take:

• Marc Gunther reports that one company is bringing clean cookstoves to the developing world by literally giving them away - and then selling the fuel they take. 

• Are there problems associated with only having one compatible fuel source? What happens to the fuel supply if the company goes out of business? 

• Learn about the role of clean cookstoves in reaching energy targets

Millions die annually from lung and heart ailments caused by the pollutants produced by cooking, according to World Health Organization (WHO). The fundamental problem has been summed up by Kevin Starr, managing director of the Mulago Foundation, which has provided low interest loans to Inyenyeri. “The cheap stoves aren’t good enough,” Starr says, “and good stoves are way too expensive.” Clean cookstoves can “save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and protect the environment, the global alliance says.

But mostly they have not. There are many reasons why.

Most stovemakers have opted to take the cheap. The vast majority of the tens of millions of stoves that the global alliance says have been sold or given away since 2010 cost $25 or less and don’t burn cleanly enough to protect women and children from respiratory disease; they emit tiny particles that lodge in the lungs. What’s more, the poorest of the poor–a market that Reynolds is hell-bent on serving–can’t afford even a $25 stove. “You can’t sell stoves to people with no money,” he says.

Inyenyeri, by contrast, offers a top-of-the-line stove. The company is able to do that because Reynolds has brought a business model to Rwanda that may sound familiar to anyone who has bought a razor or desktop printer for below cost, while paying full price for blades or ink. Inyenyeri gives the stoves away, and generates a recurring revenues by selling fuel.

Here’s how it works: Inyenyeri provides customers with a modern, rugged cookstove called Mimi Moto that is designed by a Dutch company and built in China. The stove is expensive: It costs about $85 by the time it gets to Rwanda. Instead of burning firewood, it burns wood pellets that are supplied by Inyenyeri and turns them into a synthetic gas that, at least in theory, burns as cleanly and efficiently as the gas stoves used by many of us in the west. It relies on a chemical process known as gasification that requires a stove with a battery, fan and circuit board, all of which raise costs.

The marriage of the cookstove with the wood pellets is the key to both protecting human health and sustaining Inyenyeri’s business. Stoves are designed to burn pellets of consistent quality. The pellets are made by Inyenyeri; a supply of pellets sufficient to run two stoves sells for about $12 a month. That’s roughly 30 to 50 percent less than the equivalent amount of charcoal, which is the fuel that most city dwellers in Rwanda use for cooking.

Read the full article about Inyenyeri by Marc Gunther at Nonprofit Chronicles.