(Editor?s Note: The shortage of liquefied petroleum gas and the resulting increase in LPG prices highlight the need for readily available and cheap fuel for cooking. One such fuel is rice husk, which the country produces in huge quantities. A stove invented by Alexis Belonio, a Filipino agricultural engineer, uses rice husk for fuel. He says that a ton of rice husk can replace 23 11-kilogram tanks of LPG, a huge savings for households because rice husks are practically free in the countryside. Though the stove is not available in the Philippines [his employer in Indonesia manufactures it], Belonio has posted on the Internet a manual that describes the step-by-step process of making one.)
THE stove emits a bluish flame and does not leave soot on the casserole. It can boil about 1.5 liters of water in less than eight minutes.
It is like cooking on a stove powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), just that the fuel for this stove comes free: It uses rice husks, a farm waste common in agricultural countries like the Philippines.
?The Philippines generates about two million tons of rice husk every year and these are usually just burned on rice fields,? inventor Alexis Belonio said.
His stove allows that this abundant farm byproduct is not wasted.
Belonio?s stove does not only use rice husk for fuel which could save a family from spending up to P8,000 a year on LPG. The ashes it leaves after cooking can also be used either as an organic fertilizer or as a raw material for fiber cement boards.
He said: ?If rice husks can be converted into energy and its by-product be processed further into valuable building materials, this would be an example of complete zero-waste management that we can practice in the Philippines.?
His stove, which provides a clean alternative to those powered by costly fuels, has given 49-year-old Belonio the associate laureate citation of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 2008.
Belonio is the first Filipino to get the award from the luxury wristwatch brand which annually honors outstanding projects for the poor around the world.
The company cited Belonio?s willingness to ?share his low-cost invention, which reduces fuel costs and minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, with millions of families in the Philippines and abroad.?
Share it to the world he does: Belonio?s invention, which started at the agriculture college of the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City, is now ready for mass production not in the country, but in Indonesia.
The Indonesian company Minang Jordanindo Approtech, which manufactures agricultural equipment using alternative fuels, is supporting Belonio?s stove and his other inventions.
?The company is in full support of my research undertakings,? Belonio, now based in a province about an hour away from Jakarta, told the Inquirer.
Job offer in Indonesia
It was looking for some technology involving charcoal when it came across Belonio?s rice husk stove online in 2006. The company brought Belonio to Indonesia so he can show its officials his invention.
The company did not only offer him a job. It also brought his wife and seven children to Indonesia.
?The need for this technology is urgent in Indonesia,? Belonio said, pointing out that just like in the Philippines, the price of LPG had also been rising in the neighboring country.
Indonesia is also an agricultural country which generates 12 million tons of rice husk every year.
Belonio had tried popularizing the technology in the Philippines, even publishing a 156-page handout detailing how his rice husk stove can be replicated.
No Filipino investors
But save for a magazine feature and a few orders, high production costs and the lack of investors kept the invention from being readily available.
The stove, when Belonio first sold it in the Philippines, cost about P5,000. But the mass production in Indonesia has kept the commercial price of the rice husk stove at about P1,200.
There are already cooking stoves fueled by rice husks in the Philippines [One is Sipag kalan developed by Aga Milagroso of Malolos, Bulacan. Sipag kalan was featured in this section on July 27, 2008.] But unlike the others which directly burn the husks, Belonio?s invention first converts the husks into gas to emit a cleaner flame.
Belonio explained: ?The distinct feature of this stove is that it employs gasification of rice husks to produce combustible gases.?
He had long been familiar with gasifying rice husks.
Belonio finished his undergraduate and graduate degrees in agricultural engineering at the Central Luzon State University in Nueva Ecija.
Before teaching in Iloilo City, he worked at the International Rice Research Institute between 1983 and 1986 where he used gasified rice husks to run a rice dryer.
He developed the idea of gasifying rice husks for a cooking stove after he attended a demonstration of a wood gas stove in Thailand in 2003.
It took him six months to complete the stove, working with his son Daniel and four other students.
In the handbook he prepared for his stove which he published in 2005, Belonio said that a ton of rice husks, freely available in the countryside, could replace about 23 11-kilogram tanks of LPG. A tank now costs about P600.
The stove consumes a kilo of rice husk every 50 minutes. Cooking three cups of rice, for instance, would take between 9 and 12 minutes, Belonio said.
Aside from the savings, the stove also helps the environment by emitting a clean flame.
?It will help minimize the problem on rice husk disposal which contributes a lot to environmental pollution, especially the burning of this waste on roadsides and the dumping of the same along river banks,? Belonio said in his handbook.
The stove needs electricity to run, however.
The key component of the stove is a device which supplies enough air to burn the husk and produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen, both combustible gases.
The fan switch functions as the regulator. Increasing the speed of the electricity-powered fan delivers more air and increases the flame.
Still, Belonio said electric consumption was very minimal at 0.16 kilowatts per hour. Charging a cell phone uses up much more power. The stove can also use batteries.
Belonio has also produced various models of his invention: His employer is selling two-burner rice husk stoves in Indonesia.
Thanks to his company?s support, Belonio is also finding ways to address one limitation of the stove that he anticipated.
How can families in urban areas, where there are no rice fields that produce rice husks, use his invention?
Belonio and his son are working on ?rice husk canisters.?
The current design allows users to manually fill the stove with rice husk.
But with a canister designed to snugly fit in the stove, a user can just buy a canister pre-loaded with husk, insert it into the stove and take it out when the husk is consumed. The char would also accumulate in the canister.
His continuing research, funded by the Indonesian company, is also focusing on other inventions. He has also developed a gasifier stove which uses coal.
East Timor, sharing
His inventions will also soon be fully used in the company?s project in East Timor. ?It will be an agricultural project that will empower the poor,? Belonio said.
His company plans to convert 1,000 hectares of farm land into an ?agri-biz metropolitan? area where farmers shall be taught how to develop Belonio?s inventions, like the rice husk stove, which are mostly agriculture-based.
The reason for bringing all his inventions to East Timor: Its government has expressed full support for the project.
The Rolex Award for Enterprise formally awarded Belonio in a ceremony in Makati on Jan. 14. He got a $50,000 grant for his project as well as a wristwatch.
His award, however, is not just to recognize his ingenuity. It is an appreciation of his willingness to share his invention.
?The more I share the technology to others, the more I can achieve my goal,? Belonio said.
Though others would keep the details of their inventions to themselves, Belonio uploaded the manual for his stove on the Internet.
The handout not only describes the step-by-step process of making the stove, but also outlines how to test its efficiency.
?I discovered that as freely as I share it, freely I receive more ideas,? Belonio said.
He said it was his ?calling? to share.