Systems, surroundings, crosstalk, and critical mass: Prospects for improving indoor solid-fuel burning
Three billion people burn solid fuel to cook and heat. Four million people die prematurely because of exposure to particulate matter emissions from this burning every year. These impressive statistics have garnered donor attention, motivated design of combustion devices, and prompted intervention programs large and small.
The simple nature of the “three-stone fire” and the relative poverty of its users initially fooled engineers and implementers into believing a massive transformation was near at hand. Why does a major public health problem still exist, if the solutions are basic? On the technical side, burning a complex fuel without initial distillation is an extremely difficult problem. More importantly, the humble cookstove is embedded in a web of systems: technology support, household interactions, user limitations and ambitions, physical resources, and expectations from the international community. Meeting the challenge of providing clean energy for all will require engineers to be both technical experts and systems thinkers.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Tami Bond is a professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois. Her research has followed a thread from combustion, to atmospheric chemistry and climate, to technology change and future scenarios, to the intimate relationship between technology and human choice. Beginning in an auto repair garage and detouring through indoor air and building energy, Bond first earned two degrees in mechanical engineering, before succumbing to an interdisciplinary Ph.D., pursuing a NOAA Climate and Global Change post-doc, and eventually landing in a civil engineering department. Her research group now spans considerations as small as a particle’s skin and as large as a national transportation system in the quest to characterize the dance between humans, “their stuff,” and the atmosphere and climate.
Rural energy sources, like cookstoves, have been a common theme in Bond’s work since her post-doctoral days, when people would mail her lumps of coal to aid in the search for missing sources. Members of the Bond group have chased smoke on four continents, participated in international standards and testing initiatives, and worked with non-governmental organizations to bring testing capabilities closer to implementers.
Bond is the Nathan M. Newmark Distinguished Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Center for Applied Collaboration on Human Environments (CACHE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and a 2014 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow. Bond’s professional hobbies include scientific synthesis and cross-disciplinary knitting.