Report from Dan Sweeney on the ISO Clean Cooking Solutions Meeting in Guatemala

About the Author: Dan Sweeney is a D-Lab Biomass Fuel Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  His blog post below was originally published on October 30, 2014 on the MIT D-Lab blog. Read about other events on D-Lab News.

D-Lab’s Dan Sweeney attends ISO Clean Cooking Solutions Meeting in Guatemala

Last week, I returned from a nine-day visit to Antigua, Guatemala. Working with D-Lab partner organization Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom), I performed field tests on a couple of their improved, wood-fired cookstoves. And, I participated in a meeting of the working and task groups for the International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Committee on Clean Cooking Solutions. For my blog about cookstove testing on this trip read here.

Dan Sweeney & Marta Rivera (Fundacion Solar) during an ISO Fuels task group meeting.

Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves connection

So you may be asking “how the heck did Dan get wrapped up in all of this?” Many of you may be familiar with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (aka The Alliance,, a public-private partnership at the UN Foundation, initiated by Hillary Clinton to bring awareness to the three billion people worldwide who use biomass to meet their household energy needs through advocacy, funding opportunities and other efforts to scale improved cooking technologies. The Harvest Fuel Initiative (HFI), which I focus most of my efforts on at D-Lab, is a member of the Alliance and over the past couple of months we have become a greater voice in Alliance conversations about cooking fuels which recognize improved fuels as a needed innovation in improved cooking (the Alliance recently hired a fuels technical expert, Seema Patel, who is one of my new best friends).

International Standards OrganizationTechnical Committee on Clean Cooking Solutions

The Alliance has also convened experts from various backgrounds and locations, ISO Technical Committee 285 (TC285), tasked with producing a globally recognized ISO standard for “Improved Cooking Solutions” – in short, a comprehensive, globally adopted guide for evaluating, rating, certifying and measuring impacts from cooking technology. The challenge is that cooking practices and technology are different everywhere and stakeholders have a wide variety of opinions about what is important when evaluating a cookstove- should tests be performed in a controlled-laboratory environment (like D-Lab’s stove lab), or should tests be performed in the field during actual use conditions? And what tests should be required by the standard so as to sufficiently measure important aspects of the technology (e.g. fuel efficiency, emissions, pollutant exposure, durability, safety) but not be prohibitively expensive for stove manufacturers who may not be able to afford an expensive lab or field test campaign.

These are a few of the issues, among many more that TC285 is trying to tackle through a consensus based process over the next couple of years. Last week’s meeting in Antigua marked the start of the nitty-gritty work. The four TC285 working groups (Conceptual Framework, Harmonized Laboratory Protocols, Field Testing, Social Impacts) and two task groups (Communications, Fuels) met during several sessions to hash out scopes, work plans, write tables of contents and delegate responsibilities.

Creating international standards

For me, it was a crash course in international standards, an opportunity to represent D-Lab’s fuels research and the partners that we work with in the field, and a chance to meet a lot of folks who have paved the way in improved cooking tech.

Creating standards is a lot of work, especially for a product that is so varied in type and use, in many locations, potentially by large numbers of people. Navigating to a consensus decision seems impossible, but attending this meeting gave me some hope for the process. Drafting sections, editing and revising will be a long, ongoing process for the next couple of years, but the people involved are very passionate about seeing it get done.

I was encouraged to be involved in the Fuels Task Group, assisting group convener Marcelo Gorritty (UMSA, Bolivia). The Fuels Task group will provide guidance to other working group’s on fuels related issues, and perform a review and gap analysis of existing relevant fuels standards. I am also a member of the Lab and Field Testing Working Groups.

Introducing the Harvest Fuel Initiative to the Group

Attendees were particularly interested in the unique approach that HFI is taking in engaging directly with producers to scale alternative fuels, and also with our capacity building and design summit work. For example, there was interest in applying some of D-Lab and HFI’s design methodologies to cooking technology, such as a design summit focused on improved cooking tech and working with refugee communities to produce clean fuels.

Tour: San Antonio Aguas Calientes, cookstove factory

During our last day, some of us spent a few hours visiting San Antonio Aguas Calientes where social entrepreneur Marco Tulio runs Eco Comal, an impressive factory operation where he builds a several models of improved wood-fired cookstoves including steel-top planchas, and rocket stoves. I was particularly impressed with Marco’s intricately designed cast masonry stove internals produced from local materials, on-site, and to relatively tight tolerances.

And a . . . talent show

It was great to meet and work with some notable “stovers” like Dean Still (Aprovecho) and Tami Bond (Universithy of Illinois). In the evening following our last round of working group meetings, we kept with tradition by having a talent show where attendees performed, among others, solo flamenco guitar, traditional Rwandan dance and song, and a Nepali trekking song.

Read Dan’s Blog on Cookstove Field Tests in Guatemala.

For more information, contact Dan Sweeney.