OSU professor lands grant to clean up wood burning stoves

The Environmental Protection agency estimates there are more than 6 million old and inefficient wood burning stoves in the U.S. today. (Brent Moore, Flickr)

In the leadup to winter, researchers at Oregon State University are teaming up with the Nez Perce tribe and local manufacturers to develop a cleaner way to burn wood in stoves. 

They have received $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to research and develop a cheap device that can be put into a wood-burning stove to reduce the smoke and particulates going out into the air. 

Particulate pollution can get buried deep in the lungs and cause and exacerbate asthma, bronchitis, cancer, heart and lung disease, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

The lead researcher is Nordica MacCarty, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at OSU. She started working on the project with the non-profit Aprovecho Research Center, where she’s been collaborating with other researchers for 20 years and where she is now executive director. 

Aprovecho, based in Cottage Grove, Oregon, designs and installs cleaner, wood-burning cooking stoves for people in developing parts of the world. About 70% of people around the world burn solid fuels like wood to cook in their homes, according to the World Health Organization. 

The effects of smoke and particulate matter end up disproportionately affecting women. 

Now the focus is on the kinds of heat stoves many rely on in Native communities and lower resourced areas of the United States. The goal is to create a simple, cheap and lightweight device that can be put into the stove to reduce harmful emissions.

“Wood is a local fuel source, it’s renewable,” MacCarty said about the importance of improving existing wood stoves. “For many people burning wood remains the most viable way to heat a home, and we want to make sure this device is economically feasible.”

MacCarty said the design for the device now looks sort of like a tray, a bit larger in size than a school folder, with dozens of small holes blowing jets of air into the fire. It gets placed under the wood before burning. 

That air directly mixing into the flame creates less smoke and less loose particles, MacCarty said. The money will be used over four years to research and develop different models and to find ways to make it most affordable for people in the U.S. and eventually abroad. 

The Environmental Protection agency estimates there are more than 6 million old and inefficient wood burning stoves in the U.S. today.

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