Biomass Fuels & Cookstoves

Betty Ikalany (right) CEO of Alternative Energy Saving Technologies, Soroti, Uganda.
Betty Ikalany (right) CEO of Alternative Energy Saving Technologies, Soroti, Uganda.

Helping biomass fuel and cookstove users climb the energy ladder by scaling solutions with field practitioners.


The need for improved cooking solutions

2.7 billion people worldwide rely on traditional uses of solid biomass fuels to meet their daily energy needs, an increase in 38 million over last year (IEA 2014). Traditional means of cooking pose acute and chronic health risks, introduce time burdens on women and children, contribute to unsustainable harvest of forests, and in many cases, represent a significant cost burden on base-of-pyramid households. Without major policy changes, the number of households relying on solid fuels will continue to increase through 2050.

D-Lab is committed to addressing these issues through:

  • Applied research to evaluate existing fuel and stove technology and design improved solutions
  • Support for a community of social entrepreneurs who are supplying clean fuels and stoves to their communities
  • Engagement in international agreements to increase the quality, availability, and sustained adoption of clean cooking technology

Research Areas

Here are some of the areas that the D-Lab Fuel & Stoves group are getting their hands dirty with these days: carbonization; briquette production; usage, efficiency, emissions, and air quality; and fuel standards.

Testing Capabilities

The methods that the MIT D-Lab Fuel and Stove Team use to evaluate and improve biomass cooking products include a fuel and stove test facility at MIT known as the Burn Lab, a mobile testing lab for field testing, remote monitoring in collaboration with Sensen, carbonization testing, and DIY data acquisition.

Improved cooking solutions with real-world collaborators

D-Lab's approach to helping users climb the energy ladder is to focus on scaling solutions by engaging with field practitioners. D-Lab's fuel and stove research team helps technology developers overcome challenges and meet the needs of their customers. Empowering producers to reach scale can bring needed solutions to users in the near-term. From local producers of waste-derived alternative fuels, to multinational efficient stove producers, we seek to engage with a variety of stakeholders to pursue lasting solutions.

Featured Projects & Programs



Making charcoal.

MIT D-Lab and The Charcoal Project is hosting a convening for a group of charcoal briquette producers, October 1 to 5, 2018. The Advancing Sustainable cHarcoal Enterprises at Scale (AScHES) convening will be held in Naivasha, Kenya from October 1 to 5, 2018. We hope to strengthen the charcoal briquette sector by bringing people together to become more informed ambassadors for sustainable fuels, with knowledge and inspiration for advancing their technology and business, and to cultivate a community of practice. Read more.


Cookstove production, Uganda.

MIT D-Lab researchers conducted a research study of Ugandan improved cookstove (ICS) companies, with the goal of understanding how the growth of these businesses depends upon the expertise and resources of the founding team. We hope that the results of this research will enable ICS business owners to bring their ventures to scale and help to support NGOs, investors, and government agencies to facilitate the scaling process. Read more.


Stove sensor illustration

This project aims to evaluate incentives and information feedback to encourage healthy and safe households through the use of affordable, improved cooking and heating practices in low-income households in Madhya Pradesh, India. Read more.


Cookstove airfllow illustration.

This handbook from MIT D-Lab and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, presents insights and methodologies from recent biomass cookstove R&D programs at multiple institutions to achieve higher performance, lower cost, and improved usability. This handbook will help cookstove designers and enterprises to integrate the latest R&D innovations into their products and support further innovation. Read more.


Charcoal kilns, Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies, TEWD Uganda.

MIT D-Lab's first large-scale technology transfer program was the Harvest Fuel Initiative (HFI) in collaboration with the New York-based NGO, The Charcoal Project (TCP). The Harvest Fuel Initiative (HFI) enabled the deployment of sustainable solid biomass fuels through the dissemination of appropriate technologies and knowledge to small and medium-sized enterprises, beginning in East Africa. The D-Lab Scale-Ups program provided technology and business support. Read more.



Dan Sweeney, Research Scientist