Despite its name, a rocket stove has nothing to do with space travel. It's not a rocket powered by a stove, or a rocket-powered stove, or a stove aboard a rocket ship headed for Mars.
Instead, it is a highly efficient, low-emission, inexpensive, and easy-to-build wood-burning system that is helping to revolutionize cooking in the developing world. That's not as an impressive as landing on the moon, but its impact is much more far-reaching.
Rocket stove diagram and photo of a Grover Rocket Stove
The rocket stove was developed by Larry Winiarski while he was working at the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Oregon. Aprovecho is a non-profit organization that focuses on sustainable living technologies for people living in developing nations.
Many citizens in poorer nations use highly inefficient open cooking fires powered by wood. These fires use an enormous amount of wood, resulting in damaging deforestation. The open flames also result in serious health hazards to people who breathe in toxins contained in the smoke. In some cases, the fumes are as toxic as smoking two packs of cigarettes per day.
Winiarski's rocket stove is powered by a small diameter wood fuel that is burned in a simple, high-temperature combustion chamber. The chamber is attached to an insulated vertical chimney that takes away the smoke and provides an updraft needed to maintain the fire. The rocket stove also contains a heat exchanger to transfer the heat to the cooking pot.
The rocket stove reduces the amount of wood required for cooking and greatly limits deforestation of the local environment. It also protects residents by reducing their exposure to toxic smoke in the house.
The rocket stove has proven to be extremely popular because it can be easily and cheaply made from local materials. This makes it ideal for use in developing nations where it provides efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly cooking. Rocket stoves have been used extensively in Rwandan refugee camps.
Tree, Water and People (TWP), a Colorado-based non-profit, teamed with Honduras Association for Development (AHDESA) to develop the "Justa Stove" based on Winiarski's rocket stove design. In 2005, TWP and AHDESA won the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in the "Health and Welfare" category for their efforts.
The following year, Approvecho won Ashden's Special Africa Award for their work in building rocket stoves in Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Inventors have adapted rocket stoves for other uses. The rocket mass heater uses the same principles to heat air for space heaters. These devices have become popular among do-it-yourself builders. Rocket stoves also have been adapted for use as water heaters. A heat exchanger transfers the heat to water stored in a nearby container.
One mystery remains about the rocket stove: how did it get its name? There are different theories. One holds that the name comes from the intense flames roaring inside the stove. Another theory is that the chimney emits an audible roar that sounds like a rocket or jet engine when it heats up.