BioLite – Design for two worlds

I believe that designers, while quite rightly spending many hours dreaming up the stylish, fanciful and sometime outrageous objects of desire, should at least reserve a little space in their professional lives for real world solutions that are shaped by a moral and ethical stance. Design should always serve to improve our lives. In the developing world, there is an urgent need for simple, efficient and innovative design that is accessible (see cheap) and will immediately advance the well-being of the multitudes who are suffering unecessarily for want of fundamentals the rest of us take for granted.

To create something for the betterment of the disadvantaged is admirable and should be commended. If that same object is marketable to the relatively affluent, then it’s icing on the cake, and in turn ensures the overall viability of the project. Everyone benefits. Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child immediately comes to mind. His motivation was to promote access to knowledge for children in the developing world. The unintended side-effect of his efforts  helped spawned the netbook revolution.

One Laptop Per ChildEven though the BioLite camp stove won’t have the same celebrity cache, it promises to have a wider influence of the lives of people living in places with a low level of material well-being. The primary benefit comes from the ability to efficiently and cleanly cook food using wood, the secondary stemming from co-generation – the thermoelectric module not only drives the fan needed to improve combustion, but also provides handy off-grid power for people in areas with no ready access to electricity. One application, aside from powering an LED light, or charging a cell phone, might be to keep the OLPC topped up.

While the award winning technology behind the BioLite concept is firmly aimed at a worthy cause, it’s ideal for us pampered first world camping types. Instead of the blazing inferno I built on my trip to Crotch Lake to cook the meals, which despite producing more wattage in heat than a small power station, took an eternity to boil a medium-sized pot of water. With the BioLite and a handful of twigs I could have boiled the same container of H2O in just over 4 minutes, with considerably less of a contribution to my carbon footprint.

Well, for you outdoor types itching to avail yourself of the latest gadgetry, this isn’t selling anywhere, yet. But it will be, hopefully soon. According to the BioLite folks:

BioLite is not yet available on the commercial market but we hope to be in stores Spring of 2011. If you are a retailer or distributor interested in carrying the BioLite stove please contact us here. If you are a consumer and would like to be placed on our mailing list please email us here.

Finally, here’s the long version of the BioLite camp stove demo if you have 10 spare minutes. Let’s face it, if you are at work reading this, you have time. Really, you do. Just make it look like work.

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