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Dec 16

Why Aren't Improved Cook Stoves Selling Like Hotcakes?

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Tagged in: Technology , Energy  , Carbon Offsets

Betsy Teutsch

Our friends at GVEP, the Global Village Energy Partnership, have published an extensive series of papers, edited by Allesandra Moscadelli, that explore why adoption of Improved Cookstoves, with so many benefits - lower fuel use = lower cost, less smoke inhalation, lower emissions, lessened deforestation - have been slow to catch on.

To read the whole paper, you'll need to sign on to their site, or click here.

Dec 07

GreenMicro-enterprise: Alleviating Poverty without Trashing our Planet

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Tagged in: Untagged 

Betsy Teutsch

Jared Diamond in the New York Times neatly summarized the challenges we are up against, in working to alleviate poverty without increasing planetary trashing....

However, the real problem isn’t people themselves, but the resources that people consume and the waste that they produce. Per-person average consumption rates and waste production rates, now 32 times higher in rich countries than in poor ones, are rising steeply around the world, as developing countries emulate industrialized nations’ lifestyles.

Nov 19

The Wonders of Biochar

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Biochar: Ancient Wisdom Gives Clue to A Brighter Future


by Francesca Rheannon 
Could a centuries-old technology help solve climate change, soil depletion, water scarcity, fossil fuel dependence and poverty? Biochar advocates say, "yes!" 

With prospects dimming for a binding climate change agreementat the upcoming talks in Copenhagen, we all need some good news on climate change. So when I was listening to the radio the other day, half-snoozing in bed, my ears perked up when I heard about an ancient technology being revived as a possible big gun to tackle climate change. When the reporter said that the technology could also take a big bite out of world hunger and possibly provide carbon negative, clean, renewable fuels for transportation and heating/cooling, I leaped up in astonishment. Was I dreaming or is the Murphy's Law of global warming finally coming to an end? 

It's too early to break out the bubbly, but a burgeoning movement of scientists, entrepreneurs and policy makers are touting the benefits of biochar, the product of burning plant wastes and other biomass at low temperatures without oxygen. They say it may be able to significantly lower the amount of carbon dioxide we keep adding to the atmosphere every year. That's not a solution to fossil-fuel induced climate change, but it could buy us critical time to get the whole toolkit of solutions -- clean technology, increased efficiency, and other energy-saving practices -- on board and widespread. 

When I heard that a symposium on biochar was taking place at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst this past weekend, I jumped at the chance to find out more. The large conference hall was packed with attendees and presenters from around the world, from soil scientists like Johannes Lehmann, who co-wrote the "biochar bible" to entrepreneurs like Jim Fournier ofBiochar Engineering, who is building light industrial biochar furnaces in Colorado (more on this, below). 

Biochar could make the world's deserts bloom -- without using enormous quantities of water for irrigation. That's because biochar is the "coral reef of soil": it provides a lattice that can store large amounts of nutrients, water and beneficial organisms to help plants grow. On poor and marginal land, it can supercharge fertility. Some test plots have boosted crop yields by almost 900%, as you can see in this video clip

And it's not just for deserts. Cape Codders Peter Hirst and Bob Wells demonstrated their "Mobile Adam Retort" at the conference's field day, held at the New England Small Farm Institute. They've been taking in chippings and other waste from landscapers (who are only too happy to give it away for free) and turning it into a high quality soil amendment mixed with compost to sell to farms and gardeners. You can make biochar out of animal wastes, too. That could cut down on the smells and pollution from factory farms. 

The beauty of the technology is its scalability. From tiny units to help you make your houseplants grow all the way up to municipal and factory-sized units that can furnish energy for heating and electricity, biochar production provides opportunities for entrepreneurship in poor rural communities and developed nations alike. 
Already, some of Jim Fournier's units have been sold to municipal landfills excited about turning their waste into a product they can sell to the public while cutting down on the space they need to store waste and providing heat to their buildings. He's also developing a mobile unit that can be trucked to forests out West being devastated by the pine bark beetle. All those dead trees will put carbon into the atmosphere as they decay. But processing the dead wood into biochar and turning some back into the soil will regenerate the forests and get them soaking up carbon once again. 

Carbon negative fertilizer is just one product. Other companies, like Dynamotive Energy are working on creating clean, renewable liquid fuels from biochar. From fertilizer to fuels, biochar can provide opportunities for sustainability investors -- but investors in other biofuels, like corn ethanol, may find stiff competition in the market as the biochar market evolves. 

Policy makers are taking note. Senator Harry Reid introduced the "Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration (WECHAR) Act of 2009" in September, along with cosponsors Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Tom Udall of New Mexico. The bill would give loan guarantees for biochar technology, support biochar landscape restoration projects on public land, and fund research on biochar technology and economics. And COP-15 has approved several side events about biochar, including one to be hosted by the International Biochar Institute, which hosted last weekend's conference. 

So, while the news on the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks could be brighter, I'm seeing a glimmer of light on the horizon.


Oct 08

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Boy who harnessed-3Dcover on white

William Kamkwamba, raised in a village in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries. He dropped out of school at age 14 due to famine - his family was forced to choose between food or school for their son.  He poured through books at a local mini-library, and - inspired by a picture of a windmill - set to work fabricating one from salvaged objects.  A new book chronicles his story.  Now 22, he is featured on none other than Jon Stewart - check him out!

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arD374MFk4w 400x300]

Sep 16

Aora-Solar's Dream: An Energy Array in Every Village....

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Yuval Susskind, a rising Israeli greentech star, would like to put an Aora solar tower and array in every village in Africa. His company's innovative design meets the gap between household solar panels and utility-sized giant solar farms.  The system creates energy 24 hours a day; if the solar supply is insufficient, the system can run on biofuel or other non-fossil fuel sources.  So a whole village, if the funds were available for launching the system, could be truly ENERGY INDEPENDENT.  No waiting around for the grid to arrive - in a few decades at the earliest!

Pictured here is their installation in the Arava desert in Southern Israel.which supplies Kibbutz Samar, an agricultural collective with around 230 residents.  The hope is that this type of innovative technology designed for our resource-constrained world will be accessible to the world's poorest communities....


Sep 02

World's Poor are the Most Vulnerable Victims of Global Warming

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Some headlines just fail to surprise, like the recent one announcing that "low income workers are often cheated out of their wages."  Unfortunately, the fact that global warming's greatest impacts are on the world's poor is not really news; we at GMf are well aware of this terrible truth.  But this recent article in mainstream USA Today sums the situation up well:

   Global warming will fall heaviest on the desperately poor, finds a study of agricultural economics.

Released this week in Environmental Research Letters, the study led by Syud Ahmed of The World Bank in Washington, D.C., looked at the economic impacts of increases in atmospheric temperatures and climate variability, droughts, floods and storms, projected for the last three decades of this century across 16 developing nations. They based the estimate on the economic effects of similar weather in those places from 1970 to 2000.

"We find that extremes under present climate volatility increase poverty across our developing country sample -- particularly in Bangladesh, Mexico, Indonesia, and Africa -- with urban wage earners the most vulnerable group," write the authors. "We also find that global warming exacerbates poverty vulnerability in many nations."

Farmers in poor nations actually see their wages increase under global warming, says study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh of Purdue University, as the price of grain goes higher in nations experiencing more drought, but city dwellers, who spend much of their income on food, do worse.

The study fed projections of climate effects in two future scenarios produced by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into its economic forecasts. One was a hot, "business as usual", scenario, with industrial emissions of greenhouse gases continuing unabated into the future. The other was a "low emissions" model with limited emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere. Poverty was worse in the high-emissions model, Diffenbaugh says.

"IPCC identified the poor, the elderly, and the very young as the most vulnerable categories of people on the planet ... regardless of location, as Katrina and the European (2003) heat wave taught us," says economics professor Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University, an author of the IPCC report. "Nonetheless, the most vulnerable are more likely to live in developing countries where they face multiple stresses.  For many, climate change itself is a source of multiple stress because it is manifest in so many different ways."

However, climate scientist David Battisti of the University of Washington in Seattle is critical of the study, explaining by email that "the climate models do a poor job at simulating rainfall in many places...As well, the climate models do an extremely poor job at estimating natural variability and extreme events in temperature and precipitation. In particular, they overestimate the variability in summertime temperature and extreme events. Without correcting for these biases -- which are ubiquitous in the climate models -- it is very likely that the extreme event information input into the impact models is grossly exaggerated," Battisti says.

But Diffenbaugh notes that the poor in developing countries, who live on less that a dollar a day, have been vulnerable historically to climate swings, as seen in the study's look at numbers from the 20th century. "These folks are already vulnerable to climate, so climate 'change' seems unlikely to make things better for them."

By Dan Vergano

Aug 06

Barh Koh ESDA in Chad: Preserving Forests while Enhancing Quality of Life

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Barh Koh ESDA in Chad approaches poverty relief through environmental protection, working to provide environmentally safe alternative energy sources to the disadvantaged inhabitants and refugees in the region of Maro in southern Chad. The group's focuses on cooking and indoor lighting, to help reduce dependence on firewood, thereby reducing deforestation. 

Their plan of action shows the many ways clean technology can transform life in off-grid villages - providing power and preserving habitat.  It's always good to read about clean energy's impact on the ground!  As a northern city dweller, protection from reptiles is not something I've ever needed to contend with! (#3)
1) Providing solar cookers/ovens to poor rural families.
Solar cookers cost approximately $40 while solar ovens are in the vicinity of $300; which constitute a very small investment to help relieve poverty and save the environment at the same time. Solar cookers and stoves are safe; they cause no danger of fire, burns or smoke inhalation associated with wood burning.
2) Providing solar lanterns for poor families and students. A set of two solar lanterns can cost around $40 to $60, including shipping and handling. Solar lanterns are eco-friendly and will reduce the risks of fire hazards associated with kerosene lamps and firewood burning. A solar lantern will also enable a rural student to study and do homework after sunset. Solar lanterns also provide indoor lighting in the otherwise dark rural dwellings.
3) Providing solar flashlights to poor families and students. A single solar flashlight could save lives in a rural family that spends its evenings and nights in perpetual darkness, subject to all sorts of insects, reptiles and other elements. A solar-powered flashlight costs between $20 to $30 and can make a significant difference in a rural villager's life.

(H/T to DevelopmentCrossing).

Jul 14

Sustainable GREEN Microfinance - an Attainable Goal

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

 Teasing out the meaning of "sustainable microfinance"

Christian Science Monitor

"There is nothing intrinsic about microfinance that makes it green. The author’s assertion is simply incorrect and ’sustainable’ in the business sense does not necessarily equate to environmental sustainability. A microentrepreneur may use chemicals that are bad for the environment, they may use farming techniques that create run-off, they may cook on inefficient stoves, they may use mobile phones that are difficult to recycle, and they may drive taxis that spew pollutants into the air. It will take a concerted effort by microfinance providers to adopt and enforce environmental lending criteria into the approval process and they will need to work more closely with environmentalists and green technology providers for there to be a significant role for microfinance in improving the environment. I am all for this."

- Elizabeth Wallace

Jun 02

Improved Cookstoves, Cartoon Edition

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Hat tip to Andy Lubershane whose work is featured at WorldChanging - he does comic book style presentation of big solutions to big problems. Here is Andy on Improved Cookstoves:

May 12

MicrofinanceGatewayTells the World about Environment and Microfinance

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch


Donors and investors can build capacity for green microfinance by providing necessary technical assistance and by supporting environmentally sustainable microfinance projects. For example, the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) has developed evaluation criteria and tools to help MFI's assess and manage the social and environmental impacts and risks of microenterprises. CIDA has also produced an Environmental Sourcebook for MFIs. IFC, Triodos, Calvert, Shell Foundation, and EBRD are among other donors who are including the environmental bottom line on their agenda.

In this article, we explore some of the eco-microfinance initiatives promoted today, such as:

  • Green microenterprises
  • Renewable energy entrepreneurship
  • Carbon credit aggregation

Green microenterprises

Eco-friendly microenterprises can provide sustainable sources of income to microfinance clients, including the production of organic fertilizers and biomass charcoal briquettes, clean energy cookstove fabrication, and handicrafts made from sustainably sourced materials. Various industry standards, from groups like the Forest Stewardship Council, provide guidelines on “sustainable sourcing.”

MFIs that deal with agricultural clients can seek partners that will help clients adapt to evolving conditions through the adoption of environmentally-friendly farming techniques. Organizations, such as Sustainable Harvest International, help by providing key technical support. Subsidy can also play a positive role as clients shift their approach to a more eco-friendly standard.

Engaging in environmentally sound business practices can:

  • Help microentrepreneurs preserve and protect their long-term income
  • Protect the health of communities
  • Lower overhead for microenterprises
  • Enable MFIs to invest in a growing market that meshes well with the agendas of triple-bottom line investors.

Cooking over a wood fireRenewable energy entrepreneurship

Microfinance clients often use fossil fuels like natural gas and petroleum as sources of energy. These fuel sources contribute to the greenhouse gas problem, the degradation of local ecosystems, and cause health problems. Implementing renewable energy systems, like solar, wind, and biogas can offer great cost savings, as well as health benefits. MFIs offering personal consumption “energy loans” can help microfinance clients leverage these resources for their homes and businesses.

Renewable energy can also be a source of income for a new class of business – renewable energy microenterprises. Social and environmental entrepreneurs from the industrialized world are helping to create this microentrepreneurship opportunity. For example, Barefoot Power is a socially-conscious business that employs microentrepreneurs to distribute solar-powered products and systems in the developing world.

Grameen Shakti is a nonprofit with the mission of eliminating energy poverty with renewable-energy entrepreneurs. They support programs in solar energy, biogas, and improved cookstoves, which include training and capacity building for entrepreneurs who promote the systems, as well as financial products tailored for renewable energy uptake. In the micro-utility model, one entrepreneur will install a solar system and sell power to those in the community who cannot yet afford to invest in their own.

In the fieldCarbon credit aggregation

Carbon credit aggregators, like MicroEnergy Credits and E + Co, work with MFIs that provide renewable energy loans to clients. Each loan can be translated into a small carbon credit. Though these credits are too small to be traded on the multi-million or billion dollar carbon markets created by the Kyoto Protocol, aggregators bundle these credits and then sell them on the voluntary carbon market to net polluters. Carbon credit aggregation offers:

  • Financial rewards for MFIs that provide energy loans, creating an incentive to continue greening products
  • A better standard of living, and more control over energy resources, for clients who switch to renewable sources of energy for their homes or businesses
  • Business opportunities for microentrepreneurs who supply renewable energy services or systems


The conventional path of economic development has tied greater prosperity to increased energy consumption, with its corresponding negative environmental impact. This does not have to be the case. MFIs can contribute, along with their clients, to solving the crises we face today. Microfinance clients continue to be impacted by global climate change and environmental degradation, but we are also seeing that they can be part of the way forward.


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