The Institutional Stove
There are many institutions in Burma that cook food in large quantities, such as schools, orphanages and monasteries. In Naung Taung monastery, (see last report), it is normal for 1,000 people to sit down for lunch! I had conducted a successful stove training there earlier and I was determined to build a scientifically designed Rocket stove to replace the existing inefficient and smoky fires.
After several disappointing trials with insulated clay bricks, I determined to use a more durable material for the combustion chamber of our institutional-sized stove. I chose stainless steel, as it resists the effects of heat much longer than mild steel. Although stainless steel is imported from China and it is relatively expensive in the Burmese context, I wanted to see how it would perform.
With some other stoves I had built in the past, cooks complained that there was not enough heat, so this time I decided to use a combustion chamber that was 8” by 8” square – a real giant! I was ably assisted in the building phase by Hamish Lee, our New Zealand volunteer, who had a engineering background and good construction skills.
Stainless steel is a very hard metal, difficult to drill through, but with the new spot welder I had recently brought from the US, making the required joints was no problem. For stability and to hold the insulation around the combustion chamber, I placed it inside a 55 gallon drum. This is similar to the design used by Instove, a non-profit stove builder based in Oregon.
Inside the drum and surrounding the combustion chamber I placed wood ash collected from previous fires, which insulates the chamber and slows down the heat loss to the outside.
After 2 days hard work, Hamish and I had the stove ready for testing. With a ten foot high chimney, also 8” x 8”, creating a mighty draft, the stove burned extremely hot and produced almost no smoke after start up. Everyone was impressed!
Later, with two other volunteers from the US, the stove was installed in the kitchen of St Mathews Orphanage Center, where it is being used on a daily basis. I am very curious to see how the stainless steel holds up to the intense heat and what the cooks have to say about the convenience and performance of their new institutional stove.
After trying several prototype institutional-sized stoves using homemade clay bricks and common construction bricks, I decided to build one using stainless steel sheeting as the primary material for the combustion chamber. I was lucky as, at the time, I had the services of a well-qualified and skilled mechanical engineer called Hamish Lee from New Zealand. Also, I had previously brought a spot welder from the States, so we were well tooled-up for the job.
Hamish laid out the sheets to be cut and bent in a very precise manner and this resulted in a finished product that fit together very well. It took us about two days to make the 8" square combustion chamber and chimney section. The combustion chamber was then spot-welded into an old 55-gallon drum and the chimney adapter rivetted on afterwards. With 10ft of chimney, the draft of air through the stove is prodigious! We fired it up just before Hamish left and we were well satisfied with its performance.
Imagine my surprise when I heard that a luminary of the Rocket Mass Heater world was visiting Pyin Oo Lwin and wanted to come over to meet me. I was delighted to welcome Leslie Jackson, who co-authored the seminal book on the subject, "Rocket Mass Heaters", with Ianto Evans, to our humle workshop. I lost no time in roping Leslie in to giving an impromptu indtroduction on Rocket Stoves to our two most recent volunteers from UC Berkeley, Mike and Lisa. Later, we filled the drum with wood ash, (collected from two local monasteries), and this provided good insulation around the combustion chamber. Then it only remainded to install the chimney through the roof of the kitchen in St Mathews Orphanage and the work was complete.
I hope that the stainless steel material will have a useful life of 2 or 3 years. It's not the ideal material, as it quite expensive compared to the financial resouces of the benefitting institutions and it has to be imported from China. However, it is one more step in the experiment that is "Improved Cook Stoves for Burma" and it will give us useful feedback.
In March, I had the great fortune to be invited to give a technical training in Stove Building at the Naung Taung monastery, near Hopong, southern Shan State. This area is very picturesque and the local Pa'O people are a delight to work with. The Sayadaw (abbot), of the monstery is very forward thinking and he is always searching for new ways to benefit his community.
The monastery itself houses about 400 novice monks and another 500 children who have traveled from outlying areas to attend the school there. This is a heavy burden for the cooks who have to prepare the meals for such a throng! Curries are prepared in huge woks, measuring 37" across and rice is steamed in enomous trays. When the young monks are cooking, the large kitchen is completely filled with acrid smoke - a real vision from Dante's inferno! The Sayadaw asked me if I could design a better stove for the kitchen as part of our training, and I got my thinking cap on.
Our group of participants was about twenty strong - a mixture of monks, teachers in monastic schools, (both male and female), and environmental activists. Outstanding among this merry band were Ko So, Myat Toun and the irrepressible monk, U Pin Ya. We started trying to improve the fire belching stoves already in use, then we set about designing large scale Rocket stoves, based on the ubiquitous 55 gallon oil drum, to replace the old ones. Unfortunately, we were restricted to less durabable materials than we would have wished - red building bricks and galvanized sheet metal. However, the two new stoves that we built were very successful as prototypes - very economical and completely smoke free. My next project is to build more large scale stoves, but using durable materials such as stainless steel. I have since heard from Ko So that he built such a stove for his sister and she is delighted.
After 10 days of brain storming and invention, our group split up, each to return to his or her community, fired up,(pun intended), with ethusiasm to build ever cleaner burning and more efficient Rocker stoves.
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