Indian scientists who have developed an improved lantern that uses kerosene have advised the government not to phase out the poor man's fuel on environmental grounds.
Kerosene was traditionally burned in rural homes in hurricane lamps to provide lighting or in pressure stoves to cook food.
Now the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) at Phaltan in Maharashtra has developed a device that simultaneously provides light (equivalent to that from a 300 watt electric bulb) and cooks a complete meal (including chapattis) for a family of five.
The lanstove (combined lantern and cooking stove) thus makes kerosene an ideal fuel for rural households, says Anil Rajvanshi, an IIT graduate and NARI director.
He says it is unfortunate that the Indian government has decided to phase out kerosene as a result of tremendous tirade by the Western countries against the use of kerosene from a climate change point of view. This move, he says, will deprive the poor people in India of a convenient household fuel.
According to Rajvanshi, it is the way in which a fuel is burnt that makes it clean or dirty. Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and compressed natural gas become clean fuels only because of excellent combustion technologies available.
No doubt hurricane lantern is an inefficient and unclean combustion device, says Rajvanshi.
Lanstove was developed by his institute precisely to overcome these drawbacks, he says in a report published in the latest issue of "current science."
The research led to the device that burns kerosene efficiently and without causing any pollution.
Lanstove has been tested for the last eight months in 25 rural huts in western Maharashtra which do not have electricity. The users found that it is smokeless unlike the existing biomass-powered chulha, and gives excellent light compared to the presently used hurricane lanterns.
The levels of harmful carbon monoxide from these lanstoves are less than three parts per million whereas those from regular chulhas are 80 to 130 times more, according to the study.
"Thus the lanstove is an extremely clean device and equivalent to the LPG stove," Rajvanshi told IANS.
The lanstove has been designed so that kerosene is pressurized and stored in a small separate cylinder from where it flows into the combustor and burns cleanly just like in the LPG cookstove.
This detachable cylinder can be filled up in kerosene dispensing shops, the same way an LPG cylinder is now charged.
However, despite its advantages to the people in India's rural areas, the lanstove cannot be introduced at present on a large scale because of unavailability of kerosene, Rajvanshi says.
Today, below poverty line (BPL) families get only five litres of kerosene per household every month whereas lanstove users need at least 15-20 litres of kerosene per month. What is therefore needed is an enlightened policy that makes at least this much kerosene available to rural poor at subsidised price, the NARI report says.
Rajvanshi points out that around 300 million Indians are without electricity. Solar- powered light emitting diode (LED) lanterns promoted by various agencies and also government departments are not only costly and difficult to maintain but the LED light has recently been shown to be harmful to the eyes producing irreparable damage to the retina. "Besides, unlike lanstoves, these solar lanterns cannot cook," he says.
Although kerosene is a fossil fuel, there are extensive efforts currently the world over to produce kerosene-like fuel from agricultural residues so as to make it renewable, says Rajvanshi. "I hope these efforts are also undertaken in India which has a huge amount of agricultural residues."
All his life Mahatma Gandhi studied and wrote under the light of kerosene hurricane lanterns and he also used to apply kerosene to his body as a mosquito repellent, says Rajvanshi. "I am sure that if he were alive today, he would have wholeheartedly embraced the lanstove and promoted its use among the rural poor."
(K.S.Jayaraman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)