Biomass Fuel and Cookstove Testing

Explore methods that the D-Lab Fuel and Stove Team use to evaluate and improve biomass cooking products. 

Ugandan innovator Elius Muhimbise tests his "no-cost stove" in the BurnLab


Description: Among 3-D printers and electric go-karts in MIT Building 52 is D-Lab's fully-functional, custom designed test hood for controlled performance testing of bimoass fuel and stove technology. The facility is set up to run standard Water Boil Tests with real-time fuel mass loss and combustion emissions measurement.

Projects: Fuel and stove evaluation for Harvest Fuel Initiative partners | Efficient wood stove for Andean communities | Benchmarking low-cost emissions sensors for indoor kitchens | Development of on-site fuel quality control testing (testing protocol, data entry sheet) | Co-Design, Performance Testing,
and Techno-Economics to Improve a Ugandan Charcoal Cookstove (thesis)

People: Dan Sweeney (research scientist); Justin Carrus (former undergraduate researcher, briquette quality); David Tafur (former undergraduate researcher, Universidad de Los Andes) Sade Nabahe, Johanaa Greenspan-Johnston, Langston Fitts (Andean stove); Fernando Ruiz (former undergraduate researcher, MIT Engineers Without Borders); Janet Lin (former undergraduate researcher, MIT Engineers Without Borders); Harry Thaman (dataq, former undergraduate researcher, MIT Engineers Without Borders); Bella DiDio (former undergraduated researcher); Alex Leffell (former undergraduate researcher)

Mobile Testing Lab (Haiti, 2014)


Description: While testing at D-Lab offers control, replicability, and comparison with other facilities, testing in real conditions with real users is the true indicator of product performance. Our Mobile Lab consists of most of the same equipment in the D-Lab Fuel and Stove Test Facility, but portable, can be packed in five suitcases, and assembled on-site in about 30 minutes.

Projects: Uncontrolled cooking test of improved plancha stoves in Guatemala (blog) | Field evaluation of alternative and traditional cooking fuels in Haiti | Technical evaluation of common and alternative cooking fuels in Soroti, Uganda

People: Dan Sweeney; Jack Whipple (breaker/fixer); Jessica Earl (graduate researh assistant, Columbia Univeristy.); Janet Lin (former MIT undergraduate researcher, MIT Engineers Without Borders); McCall Huston (former MIT undergraduate researcher)


Description: The Mobile Lab offers a useful benefit in that we can apply a rigorous lab-based method, in a kitchen setting with real users. However, transforming a user's kitchen into a lab can be stressful, inconvenient and uncomfortable. Therefore, we are developing remote monitors which use low-cost sensors, dataloggers and mobile communications technology to evaluate cooking products during real use conditions in an arrangement that users are comfortable with.

Projects: Field pilot study of low-cost stove use and air quality monitors in Ugandan households (blogthesis) | Benchmarking of low-cost air quality monitors with high-fidelity emissions instruments (report)

People: Dan Sweeney; Belinda Liu (undergraduate researcher, University of Pennsylvania); Julia Heyman (MIT Environmental Engineering, Sensen); Marlene Ndoun (MIT MSRP Fellow, Benedict College); Ben Eck & Sabina Maddila (D-Lab: Development 2014); Dan Frey, Amit Gandhi & Prithvi Sundar (MIT Mechanical Engineering, Sensen); Eben Cross (MIT C&EE); Rich Fletcher (D-Lab).


Carbonization testing at MIT


Description: Since one of D-Lab's main focuses is on alternative biomass fuels, we do a good deal of work on methods for using waste biomass to produce clean fuels. One process for increasing the value of waste is carbonization and briquetting. We evaluate the efficiency and emissions from different methods of charcoal-making in an effort to provide on-the-ground producers with data to help drive their decisions. We also perform fundamental research on biowaste pyrolysis processes using advanced analytical methods.

Projects: Comparison of efficiency and emissions of common low-cost drum kilns | Documenting improvised innovations in charcoal-making from farm waste by Tanzanian farmers | Thermogravimetric anlysis coupled with mass spectrometry (TGA-MS) to determine biowaste conversion characteristics and kinetics (thesis)

People: Dan Sweeney; MIT Engineers Without Borders; Ta Corrales (MIT Mechanical Engineering); Ken Lim (former undergraduate researcher, UC Berkeley)


D-Lab's DIY data aquisition system


Description: When we do testing at D-Lab, we often wonder "How do these devices work, and could I make something that better suits my needs?" During testing we amass large amounts of data from different instruments and quickly becomes overwhelming to organize and make sense of. In the spirit of open-source and DIY, we are developing a simple Arduino- and Processing-based platform for acquiring test data so that it is convenient to work with post-testing. Stay tuned for Instructables!

Projects: DIY data acquisition system for common efficiency and emissions test instruments | Using a SmartDryer system to evaluate improved fuel drying technology (report)

People: Dan Sweeney; Lucas Louro (former undergraduate researcher, Centro Universitario da FEI), Fernando Ruiz (former undergraduate researcher, MIT Engineers Without Borders); Allie Sourakov (MIT Engineers Without Borders); Nicole Ozminkowski (former MIT undergraduate researcher).