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Cardboard Cooker Wins $75,000
Green Futures, 10 Apr 09

By Anna Simpson

Solar-powered cooker wins $75,000 in the FT Climate Change Challenge

A solar-powered cardboard cooker, which aims to transform the lives of hundreds of millions of villagers in developing countries, is the winner of a $75,000 prize in a global competition for innovation to tackle climate change.

The Kyoto Box is targeted at the two billion people who use firewood for cooking, and has the potential to deliver huge environmental and social benefits. “We’re saving lives and saving trees,“ says Kenya-based entrepreneur Jon Bøhmer. “I doubt if there is any other technology that can make so much impact for so little money.”

Bøhmer believes it could halve the need for firewood, saving an estimated two tonnes of carbon per family per year, as well as freeing women and children from the health risks of inhaling smoke from the cooking fires.

Bøhmer’s innovation emerged triumphant in the FT Climate Change Challenge, backed by the Financial Times, sustainable development organisation Forum for the Future, and technology giant HP, which sponsored the prize. Its aim: to identify and publicise innovations which can be developed and scaled up rapidly to make the greatest contribution to tackling climate change.

Kyoto Energy is a real family affair. Bøhmer, a Norwegian, set it up with his Kenyan wife Neema, and has used his own money to fund the project. His father has mobilised support back in Norway and his five-year-old daughter Amina even helped build the prototype.

The Kyoto Box uses the greenhouse effect to boil and bake. It consists of two boxes, one inside the other, with an acrylic cover, which lets the sun’s power in and traps it. Black paint on the inner box and silver foil on the outer help concentrate the heat, while a layer of straw or newspaper between the two provides insulation.

Bøhmer plans to use the prize-money to conduct mass trials in ten countries, including South Africa, India and Indonesia, and gather data to back an application for carbon credits.

Carbon credits are the crucial element which will make the project scalable, he explains. They will more than cover the cost of manufacturing the boxes, and the surplus will fund production of a suite of other products which offer solar-powered solutions for villagers in the developing world: a torch, a plastic bag which cleans water by heating it, and a smokeless biomass cookstove.

But he’s quick to point out that this isn’t a charity. “We’re going to make money on this. This is a whole new kind of business. I think Grameen [the celebrated microfinance institution which offers affordable credit to individuals and communities in Bangladesh] has proven that there’s interesting business at the bottom of the pyramid.”

He plans to distribute the Kyoto Box free on condition that families use them, and aims to work with women’s groups in each community. “This is all about women," he says. "Women are the ones who are fetching firewood, doing the cooking and who are responsible for the energy supply in the household.”

Having developed a more robust, longer-lasting cooker in corrugated plastic, Bøhmer plans to produce 10,000 to use in the trials. He says they can be mass-produced in existing factories as cheaply as the cardboard prototype. Publicity from the competition has already generated opportunities for his venture, says Bøhmer, and they have been contacted by a number of companies and academic institutions interested in their work.

Nearly 300 projects from around the world entered the FT Climate Change Challenge. The Kyoto Box was chosen as winner by FT readers, in conjunction with a distinguished panel of business leaders and climate change experts. The runners up were Mootral – a feed additive to cut methane produced by ruminants – and an indoor cooling system developed by Loughborough University to halve the energy use of air-conditioning systems.

Peter Madden, chief executive of the Forum, said that the finalists demonstrate “the vital role of green innovation in tackling climate change”. He expressed the hope that publicity from the competition would help speed their route to market, adding, “The Kyoto Box has the potential to transform millions of lives and is a model of scalable, sustainable innovation.”

Green Futures is published by Forum for the Future and is one of the leading magazines on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.

Photo credit: Jon Bøhmer/Kyoto Energy

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Saw this on all the usual news outlets now, but does anyone have a link to construction plans?

I find it funny every single website tries to explain the concept in words, and fails. A simple diagram would probably do the job.

Cheers, B.

Posted by: Björn on 11 Apr 09

You'll find lots of solar cooker designs and building plans in the Solar Cooking Archive (the Kyoto Box should be classified as a box cooker)

If you want to contribute there's also a Solar Cooking Archive wiki

Posted by: hs on 11 Apr 09

How is this Kyoto Box different from any of the other solar cookers or box cookers? Was there any research into prior art before awarding the prize? What about answering the question of why almost all solar cookers have failed before--how will this one succeed?

Posted by: John on 5 May 09

This is a great victory for solar cookers. I also run a blog about green energy and solar cookers in particular,, I am a fan of solar energy in general and I am always happy to see such a victory. May this be only the beginning!

Posted by: Solar cooker on 4 Oct 09

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