Clean cooking technology for refugees developed with DTU Skylab and UNHCR

UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre is collaborating with 'ServedOnSalt', on a prototype stove that can store heat generated from solar energy for clean cooking.

February 21, 2020

A new innovative clean cooking technology, creating heat from a salt-based thermochemical battery, charged by solar power, has been developed at DTU, and UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre is part of making sure it gets to those in greatest need.

In 2019, ServedOnSalt approached UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre for inputs to their business idea of storing solar-generated heat in salt-based sustainable stoves. In collaboration, ServedOnSalt and UNEP DTU Partnership won a £26,000 grant from the UK-funded Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) research and innovation project, to develop the prototype stove.

ServedOnSalt is a Danish start-up company based at the DTU Skylab, run by Christoffer Bendtsen and Nicklas Bilde, both graduates to the MSc in Design and Innovation, a programme taught by lecturers from both DTU Management and DTU Mechanical Engineering.

In searching for an appropriate application area, ServedOnSalt and UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre have partnered with UNHCR to explore the feasibility of rolling out such technology for use in some of the densely-populated refugee camps in rural Africa where fuelwood collection is a major protection risk, and deforestation is threatening the livelihoods of refugees and host communities alike.


Read more about UNEP DTU Partnership’s work with sustainable energy for refugees here.

“We are applying this technology in a new field to help solve a growing global challenge of affordable energy storage for cooking. In short, we are developing a salt container to be used as a hot plate/cooking appliance for cooking beans, which is a staple food across much of Africa,” says Bendtsen and Bilde.

A silent killer

The daily activity of household cooking is a well-known ‘silent killer’ in most low-income countries where 3bn people do not have access to a source of clean and modern energy, instead, they rely on the inefficient combustion of biomass fuels which causes 4m deaths per year.

The technology which ServedOnSalt is developing works when water is injected into a salt container, triggering an exothermic reaction that can provide enough heat for up to 4 hours of cooking. Afterward, the salts can be ‘re-charged’ by concentrated solar power or PV to restore the energy.

“We are at the proof-of-concept stage and will require significant further R&D investment, to reach the stage of end-user piloting. But the first steps have been taken and our initial lab tests reveal that the prototype stove can reliably boil 300ml”, says Bendtsen.

James Haselip, energy advisor at UNHCR, explains the logic of applying modern cooking technologies in refugee settings, as part of its core protection mandate.

“This means shifting away from the use of firewood and charcoal burned on inefficient stoves, to Tier 4 cooking systems, including pellet gasifiers, LPG and solar e-cooking. At the global level, we have partnered with MECS to help us develop a pipeline of projects to distribute or create markets for these technologies, informed by in-depth and site-specific research with our country operations.”

Leading the transition

According to Jakob Øster, a livelihoods officer at UNHCR, the humanitarian sector is well-positioned to lead the transition to clean cooking fuels in Africa, home to more than 30% of the world’s 25m refugees.
“We can leverage the power of cash-based interventions, now widely used to provide support to displaced persons, as a means to overcome the financial barriers to the uptake of clean cooking technologies at the household level.”

In countries with a significant refugee population, the hope is that such research and technology transfer projects will also deliver spill-over benefits for host communities, not least by freeing up huge amounts of time spent collecting firewood which will enable both refugees and host communities to trade and engage in income-generating activities.

UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre is represented on the board of advisors of ServedOnSalt, helping the start-up reach its ambitious goals. The board also includes Mr. Sammy Mwiti based in Nairobi and working with UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre on the TEMARIN project.

“It was a pleasure to introduce Chris to Kenya’s slum communities in Nairobi during a recent visit where he witnessed first-hand, the energy poverty confronting the urban poor. This is, therefore, a timely and welcome collaboration that has a huge potential to transform and save lives in refugee and host communities as well as in informal urban settlements like the slums of Kibera in Nairobi, and other urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa”.