Safer stoves for all township homes

The creators of a clean cookstove urge businesses to step in and help out families that have no electricity, as part of their social responsibility. And they promise their appliances are safer than paraffin stoves.

 protostar_stove_article Families who have used the clean cookstove say unlike paraffin stoves, this product gives off no smell. (Images: Supplied)

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Melissa Javan

The Protostar clean cookstove was created to replace paraffin stoves, the cause of so many devastating shack fires. Burning paraffin is also a major cause of respiratory illness.

The team that produced the Protostar stove is now exploring sponsorship options to get one of these stoves into each household in South Africa.

Danie Crowther, the chief executive of Proto-Energy, manufacturer of Protostar, says the company wants businesses to help them. “We give an opportunity for businesses to be part of this initiative, depending on their corporate social investment. We want to give stoves to every household that are currently using paraffin stoves.”

The clean cookstove uses methanol fuel instead of paraffin. And not only are there health and safety benefits, there are financial benefits too. It costs between R8.50 and R10 for a 500ml bottle, which lasts for four hours of cooking. Paraffin may be cheaper at R7 for a bottle, but this only lasts for an hour and a half of cooking, Crowther explains.

Where it started

In 2009, Rudolph de Bruin, an industrialist, the chairman of Amed Private Equity Fund and the co-founder of Sephaku Holdings, approached the industrial designer, Ken Hall, with a request to design a low-cost, clean cooking stove – referred to as a cookstove by the Global Alliance for Cleancook Stoves, the site reads.

“This stove needed to be durable, robust, safe to use and had to use clean cooking fuel (methanol) instead of noxious and dangerous paraffin. In South Africa, 25 million people cook their food on unstable paraffin stoves, breathing the toxic fumes that result in much more lung damage and disease than that caused by smoking.”

Proto-Energy’s appliance passed the tests set by Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and the company is now working in partnership with the initiative, which is led by the United Nations Foundation. It says nearly 3 billion people in the developing world cook food and heat their homes with traditional cooking stoves or open fires.

Business Day Live, an online financial news portal, says the alliance has set a target to introduce clean cookstoves in 100 million households by 2020. “Several African countries have joined the alliance and launched ambitious projects to address the problem. South Africa’s government has to date not expressed any interest in joining this programme.”

Doing their homework

Crowther says his company started its research in KwaNdebele, outside Pretoria. “We first gave away a stove each to 10 households to test the product. We came back, did some modifications and a survey. That was just for experimental use.

“We then gave [a stove] to 100 families and did the same. We had to test it before selling it.”

Sales began in Diepsloot only. “We started in August 2013. We had promotions and took the customers’ numbers. Our team then called the customers to find out how the product was doing.

“The sales went slowly. We picked up a few mistakes with the product,” Crowther admits.

About 5 000 stoves were sold in Diepsloot. “We invested about R15-million for research and development,” he says.

“We worked in Diepsloot for a year. In August 2014, we then said that the product was now ready to be sold everywhere. Then we began to start rolling the product out to wholesalers. The wholesalers sell it to spaza shop owners.”

 proto_energy_danie_crowther_article Danie Crowther says they invested about R15million for research and development of this product.

The first big client was Africa Cash & Carry. “We are starting to distribute the product all over the country now. Within the last month (June), our sales have grown up to 60%. From August 2014, we have sold between 10 000 and 12 000. We have a big footprint in Johannesburg – areas like Tembisa, Soweto and Alexandra. We are selling the products as far as Limpopo.”

Proto-Energy has 21 direct employees. “We have about 100 self-employed people who sell the fuel and stoves.”

Other products

Proto-Energy also sells heaters separately that can work together with the stoves, says Crowther. Other accessories sold separately include a braaier, oven and a night light. The night light replaces a candle.

He says it is very exciting to be part of this initiative. “I recently spoke to five families in Alexandra, which was inspiring. The learners used to be called ‘smokas’ because the paraffin smell stayed on their clothes. Now they no longer smell like paraffin nor fuel.”

For more information, visit Proto-Energy.