“What Has Been Really Transformative Are Carbon Credits. They Allowed Us To Scale,” Molly Brown, Head Of Carbon Strategy BURN Manufacturing

"What Has Been Really Transformative Are Carbon Credits. They Allowed Us To Scale," Molly Brown, Head Of Carbon Strategy BURN Manufacturing - Carbon Herald
Credit: BURN Manufacturing

One company with a mission to reduce emissions from cooking has manufactured highly efficient and modern wood and coal-fired cookstoves that have been saving lives and improving people’s well-being in developing countries. BURN Manufacturing designs, produces and distributes Africa’s best-selling, fuel-efficient biomass, electric, hybrid and liquid fuel cooking appliances while also generating carbon credits for the voluntary carbon market.

The company founded in 2011 and headquartered in Kenya, has launched Sub-Saharan Africa’s first and only modern cookstove facility in Kenya back in 2014. Thanks to revenue from carbon markets from selling its carbon credits, it has managed to hit an impressive milestone of more than 3.6 million cookstoves sold so far and has managed to scale at a rapid pace.

We interviewed Molly Brown, Head of Carbon Strategy at BURN Manufacturing. She shares some of the past and more recent milestones of the company and explains how they have improved people’s health, budget and quality of life in Africa and developing countries elsewhere.

What is the activity of BURN Manufacturing? What do you do?

BURN is a cook stove company and a carbon project developer. We are quite unique in the sense that we cover the full end-to-end value chain of stoves – from research and development all the way through manufacturing, distribution and selling the products. We see the full value chain which enables us to optimize for quality all along.

What is BURN’s technology? How does it reduce more CO2 emissions compared to competitive wood-fired cookstoves typically sold in developing countries?

We make finely engineered stainless steel cookstoves. There are still 2 billion people in the world who are cooking with open fires. If you are switching from using a stonefire or very smoky, inefficient charcoal stove, over to one of the BURN stoves, you reduce your fuel consumption. 

The reduction in wood when we compare woodstoves to our stoves is 70% and the reduction of charcoal is around 60%. That is what is driving the carbon credits. This summer we are also launching a new line of electric products at scale. 

Credit: BURN Manufacturing website

We have been piloting them for a couple of years. What is exciting about them rolling out across Africa, is that you can go to almost zero emission cooking because the grid is constituted of around 75% renewables in Kenya for example. When switching a family from cooking with charcoal to cooking on an electric stove, there is a huge reduction in the amount of emissions.

What are the electricity access rates of households in Africa? 

I think at the moment there is about 75% connectivity in urban areas which is expected to grow to 90% by 2030. Not everywhere households have access to electricity and certainly not in some rural areas but there can be quite good electrification. We are entering six new countries this year and we will be targeting areas where there are good electrification rates.

What are the benefits of these cookstoves? Are there any downsides? 

The first one is the environmental benefit. If you burn less wood fuel, you are emitting less carbon dioxide, but also other pollutants like black carbon and carbon monoxide. Using less wood fuel also translates to cutting down fewer trees so there is a link to deforestation and forest degradation. 

Another benefit is in terms of the human side. What we see is that it’s typically women and children who are bearing the brunt of all the cooking-related tasks. When you move to a more efficient cookstove, it unlocks time that was previously spent collecting firewood or charcoal. We see a reduction of an hour every day spent on cooking which is invested in other activities. 

We also see really improved health outcomes, mostly for women and girls, because of the reduction of indoor air pollution. BURN’s cookstoves are the only ones to have an independent randomized controlled trial, done on us by American academics who validated those findings. 

The savings have been validated in terms of fuel which translates into savings of time, and health improvements. The final one is cost savings or spending less money on charcoal. Those savings can then be reinvested into other things. 

We have lots of lovely testimonials from people saying they are spending the leftover money on their child’s education, or reinvesting them into their businesses. This can really be transformative for a family as charcoal is very expensive.

What is also really nice about BURN is that we have high usage rates because people actually like cooking on our cookstoves. Over the last 10 years, we have done a very iterative design process and we have been taking customer feedback to make sure our stoves are suitable for local cooking needs.

What are the savings incurred by using BURN Manufacturing cookstoves? How much on average does a household spend on woodfuel or charcoal for cooking? 

Credit: Nattakorn_Maneerat | Shutterstock

It changes a bit because the price of charcoal changes. It’s more expensive in recent years, families save about $180 a year by using our cookstoves. Berkouwer & Dean finds $118/ year savings for using charcoal stoves and Yunus Social Business finds $180/ year for using the wood stoves. The amounts we cite are from the randomized controlled trial but it doesn’t necessarily tend to last. Both are from Kenya from 2019/2020 so the $ value will have changed a bit.

Would you please tell us more about the history of the company?

BURN started as an engineering project, working out how to design a really super efficient cookstove. The company started in 2014, initially with a small team. What has been really transformative in the last couple of years are the carbon markets. They allowed us to scale from being a successful social business to a massive player. 

Relevant: BURN Joint Venture With Carbon Neutral Royalty Will Expand The Company In Africa

We now have our own projects in nine African countries, possibly 10 by the end of the year. Through other project developers and distributors, we supply almost 30 countries around the world, which is amazing. 

We just opened a second factory in Nairobi and we are launching a new product line of electric cookstoves. To a large extent, that has been enabled by the carbon markets in the last couple of years.

You are selling carbon credits for individuals and corporates, how many BURN Manufacturing credits have been sold so far? Are they accredited and verified?

Credit: 3rdtimeluckystudio | Shutterstock

Our credits at the moment go through the Gold Standard. The way that process works is that credits have to be audited by an independent party. They also go through different stages of vetting. BURN stoves have generated a saving of 14 million tCO2e so far. As a project developer, BURN projects have issued 4M credits to date.

Apart from offering carbon credits directly on your website, do you also offer them on other platforms like carbon marketplaces?

We do have a steady stream of individuals who purchased credits from our website but the vast majority of the credits that we have sold did not go through the website. That would be through brokers and traders, corporate directors and some other partners.

How many manufacturing facilities do you have and what are their capacities? 

We have two factories in Kenya now with a production capacity of up to 400,000 stoves per month. We are in the process of opening a facility in West Africa which will happen in the autumn. We will make an official announcement with more details later on. 

What is BURN’s expansion strategy? What is the scale of development and global reach you are targeting?

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The next big exciting thing for us is electric stoves. We are launching a new line across six countries this year. The big launch party will be in August. As part of that, we are expanding our factory to include a new assembly line for these electric products inside our existing factories. The main big new focus I would say is electric. We plan to have 50,000 stoves distributed by the end of the year. 

Are you planning to raise capital to fund any of your planned manufacturing and operations?

There has been financing across a couple of different carbon projects. Pre-financing can reduce upfront costs of the stoves for the end consumer and we can distribute more stoves, making sure we are really targeting people who are in poverty and real need. 

Relevant: “We Work With Project Developers So They Can Attract Large-Scale Funding From Pension Funds,” Luke Leslie, CEO Carbon Neutral Royalty

Then the stoves can generate carbon emissions reductions, and the carbon credits can go back to pay the investor. We successfully raised about $37 million last year of financing and I know we are in talks with other people this year about the next batch of production.

You also announced in 2022 a partnership with Carbon Neutral Royalty, would you tell us more about it?

Carbon Neutral Royalty is a key strategic partner, they have provided upfront financing for some of our projects which allowed us to subsidize the cost of the stoves.

What is your final message that you would like to share?

One thing I haven’t really talked about is quality and integrity. We are very proud to make high quality stoves and therefore, we have high usage rates, because families see a real value in them and a real reduction in spending. Part of that also lies in the durability of our products, they last for a long time. We can demonstrate that the stoves are making a big difference so it all ties together.

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