Year/Course: 2017-2018, Easter 2018

Inventor: Dr. Steve Marshall, British Antarctic Survey
Mentor: Dr. John Mullett

Paraffin stoves have been used for cooking in Antarctica since the first expeditions over a century ago. Modern stoves are very similar to those originally used, though they have become lighter and more compact. Paraffin is one of the best available fuels since it is relatively safe to store and has a high energy density.

Since the stoves are used in an enclosed space, the engineers at the British Antarctic Survey have looked at the problem of exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) in tents. They believe that some of the reported odd behaviours of remote explorers in past and present times may in fact be due to CO poisoning. There are also a variety of health problems caused by long-term low-level CO exposure. The inventor has devised some design adaptations which increase the efficiency of fuel use in the stoves by ensuring more of it is burned to form CO2 and release heat, which also reduces the CO emissions.

Outside of Antarctica, the majority of paraffin stoves are used in the developing world. Paraffin fuel can often be the largest single item of household expenditure, and is used for both lighting and cooking. Wood is also widely used for cooking, requiring long walks to collect it (often by young girls who then cannot attend school), and causing widespread deforestation.

The question for the i-Team is whether the new design paraffin stoves would be useful in a developing world context, and if so, how the knowledge would best be shared. Do any governments or charities monitor CO poisoning in any parts of the developing world, and if so, how big a problem does it cause? How does the new design compare in cost, efficiency and ease of manufacture to existing paraffin stoves? Could the technology be used as a way to educate people about using stoves more safely? The i-Team will need to talk to relevant experts in a wide range of sectors to understand the context and help the inventor decide his next steps for the technology.