Help Support the Vital Work of BDL

By Bob Powell, Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

Vashon’s Burn Design Lab (BDL) was founded 10 years ago, as a first step toward realizing environmental activist and Vashon resident Peter Scott’s dream of building a new kind of cookstove industry for the developing world.

Clean cookstoves matter. Wood and charcoal cooking fuel are used by billions of the poorest people in the world, causing a global disaster of deforestation and air pollution. Indoor air pollution from burning with open fires and inadequate cookstoves sickens millions of women and children, and the cost of cooking fuel is economically devastating to poor families. No two communities cook the same, however, and so Peter dreamed of designing stoves to meet cultural as well as environmental and economic requirements; he envisioned manufacturing them by the millions where they are actually used. Peter believed good stoves must be cheap enough for some of the poorest people in the world to buy with their own money, ensuring the stoves are what people need and want.

Peter settled on Vashon in 2010 and sensed our community could help realize his dream. In two months, BDL was incorporated as a non-profit by Peter, Olivia Pendergast, Ted Clabaugh, and me. Volunteers expanded BDL’s board and began designing stoves to achieve performance and manufacturing objectives. BDL’s staff designed, built and tested hundreds of cookstove prototypes, striving for simple designs meeting emissions and fuel efficiency criteria, and feasible to manufacture at low cost.

To expand the positive impact of these stove designs, Peter then founded a second, separate organization called Burn Manufacturing Company (BMC) in 2012 with the plan to build a stove factory in Nairobi, Kenya. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton authorized a critical loan guarantee. On Vashon, BDL staff designed BMC’s flagship product: the Jikokoa charcoal stove. Peter and BMC relocated to Nairobi. BMC has since manufactured and sold nearly a million Jikokoa stoves and is now the largest cookstove manufacturer in sub-Saharan Africa.

BDL lives on as a Vashon-based non-profit, with a smaller board and staff, a world-class development and testing lab and a great track record. Executive Director Paul Means leads the effort to build BDL into an independent organization positioned to continue making a global impact. Through grants and donations, BDL works with stove manufacturers around the world and continues research to develop new low-cost designs for simple manufacturing. BDL has a long list of vital projects wanting only the resources to pursue them. BDL has been a big part of my and others’ lives here on Vashon; continuing the work is important to us.

BDL’s incredible story wouldn’t have happened without the enthusiastic help of dozens of Vashon volunteers and the incredible members of our Vashon community: working hands-on, offering spare bedrooms to interns, and opening wallets at critical moments. For making this organization happen, we say thank you. We also ask, once more, for your help.

BDL needs financial support. BMC is unable to underwrite a U.S.-based Research and Development (R&D) organization; we rely on donations to complete our vital work.

BDL also needs a strong board of directors: people who understand and support our mission and want to contribute their fundraising, legal, organizational, or technical expertise. BDL also seeks volunteer staff with interest in mechanical design, materials science, lab testing stove performance, and mentoring engineering interns.

BDL is the organization it is today because of Vashon. Millions of families in Kenya have access to clean cooking because of Vashon. Help us ensure millions more have the same access by considering supporting BDL’s mission however you can.

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Thank you.

Bob Powell is a director of Burn Design Lab, and owns Meadow Creature LLC ( which sponsors BDL with prototype stove components.

Originally published in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.