Project Gaia

Project Gaia, Inc. is a global clean cooking initiative promoting clean-burning alcohol stoves and fuel for the three billion people worldwide who struggle to cook a daily meal and who subsist on polluting solid fuels. Project Gaia is working in Haiti with GIVE Global Energy and other partners to harness the country’s enormous potential to produce its own energy from locally grown agricultural crops such as sweet sorghum and sugarcane.  

Environmental exploitation has left Haiti 98% deforested. The widespread use of charcoal for cooking deepens this problem. The January 2010 earthquake only increased Haiti’s dependency on charcoal.  As a consequence, the pressure on Haiti’s remaining wood resources has intensified and the cost of charcoal has skyrocketed.  Recent assessments show that Haitian families are spending an average of 40% of their daily income on fuel for cooking.  A crisis in cooking energy looms, and Haitians face extreme and prolonged fuel shortages if new solutions are not developed now.  

Gaia’s work in Haiti is designed to assist GIVE Global Energy and others to develop a domestic market for ethanol fuel.  This market will include ethanol for cooking, heating, cooling, small stationary power generation and transportation.

GIVE Global Energy will produce ethanol from highly efficient energy plants, among them sweet sorghum. This plant converts the sun’s energy to carbohydrates through the “C4” photosynthetic pathway, a more efficient process than is used by most plants, including trees. Carbohydrates—cellulose, lignin and sugars, which are complex carbon-storing molecules—are available for use as feed and fuel.  Sweet sorghum’s seed head is an ideal animal feed.  The lignin and cellulose in the leaves and stalk and the sugars concentrated in the stalk are ideal for fuel.  The roots, which go deep into the soil, pump carbon and other nutrients into the ground, replenishing and binding the soil.

GIVE Global Energy will extract the sugars from sweet sorghum to make ethanol, which is clean and easy to burn.  What is left are crushed leaves and stalks (bagasse).  For every liter of ethanol distilled, approximately 15 kg of bagasse are available for use.  GIVE Global Energy will carbonize the bagasse to make char briquettes for cooking, a substitute for charcoal.  It will use the sale of this fuel to finance ethanol cook stoves for consumers.  In this way a quality appliance can be made affordable for even the poorest energy consumer.  Once ethanol stoves are delivered, consumers will be able to step up to a modern, clean fuel every bit as desirable as LPG or natural gas.  This is called “climbing the energy ladder.”  Ethanol will be cheaper than charcoal, kerosene and LPG.  This makes ethanol stoves and fuel affordable.  With stoves and fuel produced locally, this is the Haitian solution.  

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s original alcohol-producing nation.  Many small sugarcane mills and artisanal distilleries (guildives) exist.  But far more sugarcane grows today than is harvested and sold.  Moreover, much fallow land exists that is ideal for sweet sorghum, a crop that does not require irrigation.  There is enormous potential for returning Haiti to historic agricultural productivity by creating a market for ethanol fuel.  Charcoal from woody biomass will not meet Haiti’s needs, and imported fuels such as LPG and kerosene are too expensive and pose difficult macro-economic challenges for Haiti especially as it strives to recover.  

Project Gaia uses the CleanCook stove by Dometic. This stove is based upon the leading alcohol stove sold in developed-world markets over three decades.  It has been redesigned for “base of the pyramid” consumers so that they can have access to alcohol fuels too.  

One liter of ethanol cooks three meals a day for a family of five. The CleanCook stove meets World Health Organization guidelines for reduction of harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide (CO) to almost zero.  It is the cleanest way to cook from a carbon emissions standpoint, producing little or no non-recycled carbon (as CO and CO2), and no other Greenhouse Gases (such as methane).  Black carbon (fine particles of soot that become airborne in the atmosphere) are eliminated.  When coupled with good agricultural practices and a crop like sweet sorghum, the stove-fuel combination even has a negative carbon balance, storing carbon in the soil and recycling the rest.  

The CleanCook stove is also a very safe stove.  It is used extensively in refugee camps in Ethiopia and has amassed millions of stove-use-days without a single accident—a remarkable record!
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