“May you live in interesting times” is said to be an old Chinese curse.
As interesting as 2020 was, I suspect the coming years will also continue to be so. Many of the ecosystems that support life on earth are dangerously stressed and in decline.
The Himalayan Rocket Stove project has always been about trying to make a positive difference in a particularly sensitive region of the Earth’s ecosystem. The Himalayas are sometimes called the ‘Third Pole of the Earth’ due to the amount of permanent ice stored on the high mountains. This ice is rapidly melting, and as it does so, water flows that support life for billions of people is changing, along with climate patterns in the region.
Through the introduction of clean combustion for space heating and cooking, HRS has been able to reduce one of the key drivers for glacial melt. Black carbon is a sooty particulate that settles onto the ground within days or weeks of being ejected into the atmosphere from a combustion process. The black particles soak up heat from the sun and accelerates the melting of snow and ice. This is a significantly stronger driver of glacial melt than temperature rise, which is also happening.
The reason for this brief preamble is to set the scene for the thinking that drives our planning as we move forward. In light of ongoing decline in global ice, I feel a sense of urgency with regards to extending the reach of our clean burning technology to wider spheres. Although our impact is currently small and localised, we are growing rapidly and hope to be able to make a significant impact in more regions over the coming years.
HRS Update in brief
HRS is having a good season in terms of production, sales and growth in spite of various limitations due to Covid-19. The investment deal with Social Alpha was finalised and we comfortably reached our targets for the full transfer of funds.
We’re well into the (extensive) process of validation with Gold Standard which will allow South Pole to trade carbon credits on our behalf, and we are about to close a deal to deliver 575 units to low income groups as part of an ongoing project with Sustain-Plus.
Waste biomass pellets and briquettes are the future for clean combustion and are testing several options with a view to strongly promoting these in the coming year. Waste biomass fuels, as the name suggests, are made from inputs that are surplus waste in some way, such as pine needles, rice chaff or saw dust. These are then bonded into a usable form either through compression or mixing with a binding agent.
We see these fuels as an essential step in the progression towards sustainable energy for heating and cooking in a wide range of formats, as they dramatically improve the impacts on deforestation and CO2 abatement.
In terms of numbers, HRS has over 4000 heating units made and sold to various regions across the Himalayan belt. Sales have continued to double each year, and we are now focussing on bringing a summer product range to market by March 2021. HRS is now self-sustaining and is in the process of repaying loans that helped carry it through the difficult establishment stages.
I’ve covered many of these points in detail in earlier updates, so I won’t expand more on them here, other than to say that things are progressing as well as we could hope, thanks to the hard work from our team in India.
HRS and RMD – Expanding our Reach
This next section is related to how I see this project moving forward and scaling up to reach different markets in India and as well as other parts of the world.
I was recently contacted by someone from the US who lives in Pakistan and who wants to manufacture our stoves there. We have been getting a steady trickle of customer queries from around the world, including Pakistan, but have been unable to deliver. Exports from India to Pakistan are currently banned, and to anywhere else are typically expensive and complicated. We are trying work out how to send a container of 100 units to a Native American reservation in Arizona, but there is a global shortage of shipping containers due to stock being held up all over the world.
Setting up manufacturing in other regions makes sense in terms of reducing distribution costs as well as allowing locals to take control and responsibility for catering to their own regional market. With this in mind, I am using the Pakistan example to set up a template for establishing manufacturing partnerships around the world.
The idea is to set up a franchise model whereby Rocket Man Designs (the Australian company that owns the IP for the stove designs) licenses out the rights to production to third party companies in various regions. In return for a royalty fee, RMD gives ongoing access to new designs as they are developed, and HRS gives technical support on production and distribution models that we find most effective.
Due to the complexity of doing international business from India, the licensing arrangements will be legally partnered via RMD in Australia, which in turn will pass a margin back to HRS in India for their part in supporting each new venture.
Rocket Man Designs – the Global Nexus
Partly due to travel restrictions, and partly just because the time is right, I will begin to step back from the day to day management of HRS and focus more time on running RMD in Australia. I am looking to install a general manager for HRS in India as soon as we find the right person (we are currently conducting interviews).
This will allow me to focus more time on product design and development (which is my real passion anyway). I have mapped out a business model for RMD which I share here in brief. It is based on generating positive impact and income on three levels.
- Design, develop and improve clean combustion products for high need regions
- Cultivate relationships with manufacturing partners in new regions
- Develop new products that have local application, and which foster resilience and sustainability (in Australia and beyond).
Each of these points can be expanded as follows:
- New designs currently in development:
- Institutional and community cookstoves
- Agricultural heating/drying products
- Waste incineration
- Clean and efficient cremators
- Remote Field Sensors for heating and cooking units
- Micro cookstove to heater conversion kits
- Waste biomass pellet burners
- — and more —
- New regions where conversations have started:
- — with potential for many more —
- Local product ideas in development:
- Wood and Pellet Burning Patio Heater
- Wood and Pellet Burning BBQ / Cookstation
- Remote Area Emergency Community Kitchen
- Clean Burning Firepits
- Portable stand-up cookstove units for multiple applications
- Rocket fired clean burning pizza oven
- — new ideas welcome —
I have already begun scaling up the capacity of RMD to be able to do this. The week between Christmas and New Year I spent moving my equipment into a larger workshop closer to Byron Bay, which I am now in the process of fitting out for advanced prototyping as well as small scale production.
I have ordered a CNC laser cutter (1.5m x 3m cutting size) to facilitate this work, and will look to employing 2 (or more) locals here in Byron Bay to support with production and new region relationship building.
RMD’s income will come from the license fees payable by the various partners (with HRS being our first paying partnership) as well as through generating local income from direct sales of our own product range here in Australia (which can also be shipping internationally as per demand). I am also applying for grants to increase our ability to cover overheads.
As I sometimes mention in these updates (but not always 🙂 I am again open to offers of support, in the form of gifts, loans, investments or in-kind donation (EG: workshop tools / social media marketing / etc).
This project has been functioning on a lean budget since 2016, and I’ve managed to get by thanks to a few wonderful and generous supporters. In order to move fully into the next phase, I intend to raise additional funds to cover the operational costs of RMD for the coming year. I expect RMD to become self-sufficient by the end of 2021 due to the multiple income streams generated.
If you are interested in learning more about supporting this project scale its capacity for impact, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org