Just up the hill at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a handful of UC Berkeley graduate and undergraduate students congregate in warehouse-like Building 60 each week to cook up two gallons of rice and beans, flavored with salt and garlic to taste. The students aren’t especially hungry for this typical Haitian meal (in fact, they’re probably a bit tired of it at this point)–they’re conducting experiments on cook stove efficiency. Arguably, they are doing some of the most important research currently being carried out at Berkeley, all in a facility that is a far cry from what we usually think of as a high-tech engineering laboratory.
The team is part of the research group of Ashok Gadgil, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at UC Berkeley. One of his students, Katee Lask, recently gave me a tour of the group’s laboratory and spoke to me about their current efforts toward helping Haitian refugees.
Since the January 2010 earthquake, millions of Haitians have been living in refugee camps, displaced from their homes when the frail buildings collapsed. Critical resources, like charcoal for cooking, are difficult to obtain for a reasonable cost in the camps. Moreover, the cramped nature of the camps means that many kitchens burn charcoal in close proximity, polluting the air and presenting a potential health hazard for the refugees. UC Berkeley and LBNL engineers, including Gadgil and Lask, have stepped in to help develop cleaner and less costly means of cooking food for the refugees.
Gadgil originally became involved with cook stove engineering in 2005, with the goal of assisting war-displaced refugees in Darfur, Sudan. That project culminated in the Berkeley-Darfur Stove, a wood-burning stove with more than 15,000 units deployed to Darfur families by the end of 2010 alone. Later, a modified version of the Berkeley-Darfur Stove was designed for cooking use by families in Ethiopia, where wood is also used as the solid fuel source. As a result of these two projects, when the earthquake hit Haiti, the Berkeley team was uniquely qualified to assist with cook stove issues in the refugee camps.
READ MORE ARTICLES