Financial Times

Inventor of EZ Charcoal Stove says energy crisis blessing in disguise
ByJagdish Hathiramani

The stove

Like a lot of his fellow Sri Lankans, Riyad Ismail believes that the future of the country depends on independence from the oppressive and nonsensical pricing of oil. Unlike them however, he has actually done something to back up his beliefs.

Meet the inventor of the EZ Turbo Stove... an energy conserving stove that allows for significant savings over LPG gas, clean burning and a host of other benefits. It was also this innovative product together with an exemplary business plan that resulted in him winning the country's first ever Business Plan Competition, where he beat over 50 entrants to earn the coveted top prize. It is no wonder then that a man such as this – an inventor, entrepreneur and modern-day renaissance man, an advocate of creative thought, 'undaunted' perseverance and belief in oneself – considers today’s global energy crisis to be nothing short of a blessing in disguise.

Mr. Ismail points to man’s own shortsightedness as a cause for today’s global energy crisis: “When the price of oil was not significant, we lost sight of the need to work towards cost effective and environmental friendly solutions to our energy needs. The escalating energy costs have prompted many scientists and leaders across the world to put their thinking caps on and divest their energies to come up with less expensive and more importantly, sustainable alternatives.”

Riyad Ismail

He further suggests that a focus on technologies like the fuel cell, wind, solar, bio gas and other such energy sources should be explored. His view is that these sources are appropriate for further development because they have the potential to be made less expensive and more commercially feasible.

His advice to Sri Lanka: “While striving to conserve energy both at the macro and micro level, Sri Lanka must now look within to find cost effective, environmentally friendly solutions to fulfill her energy needs. A few examples are the mini hydro projects, Dendro power projects, the pilot wind energy project which is situated in Hambantota. The EZ Stove is also a development in the right direction!”

“We as individuals must set an example to others by making an effort to reduce energy/waste. As Mahatma Gandhi said ‘Be the change you want to see in this world,” he adds. For Mr Ismail, creating a workable solution to the pressing issues affecting a majority of Sri Lankan households was the catalyst from which the EZ Turbo Stove resulted. In fact, he directly identifies several issues such as increases in the price of kerosene and LPG gas which makes it less and less affordable to consumers, increases in households reverting to wood for cooking purposes, an adverse impact on health caused by inhalation of excessive smoke from wood burning, and the negative impact on the environment due to the felling of trees for fuel.

After identifying the issues that needed to be surmounted, it was time to get to work: “The initial R&D phase was a fun time for me,” says Mr. Ismail, “as it reminded me of my university days.” He continues, “I built a small laboratory at home and experimented with many designs of stoves and with various fuels during my spare time. After many months of proto-typing and testing I came up with the EZ Turbo Charcoal Stove that I believe is the closest cost-effective alternative to LPG and Kerosene based cooking stoves.”

As to why he decided upon charcoal as an alternative to wood, LPG gas and kerosene, Mr. Ismail explains that, “Wood Charcoal is widely used in many African and Latin American countries as an alternative to wood as it emits very little or no smoke when lit and has a higher calorific value compared to wood. It is also a good substitute to fossil fuels like LPG and kerosene. However in order to make wood charcoal felling of trees is required at the expense of the environment. That is why I have chosen coconut shell based charcoal derived from coconut shells, a bi-product from the coconut processing industries and also domestic kitchens.”

One burning question remains… Can a product that is both energy conserving and socially responsible make a profit? The answer appears to be yes. Currently in its test marketing phase where it is priced at Rs. 2,350, Mr. Ismail reports that more than 300 stoves have been sold within the first three months through a single sales outlet in Battaramulla. He further states that according to a recent survey conducted to elicit feedback about the product, he discovered that more than 50% of the sales were a direct result of positive word of mouth where customers had recommended the product to interested parties.

He also noted that the same survey had revealed that there was 95% customer satisfaction with the EZ Turbo Stove. There has also been interest from overseas but, being a pragmatist as well as a dreamer; Ms. Ismail says that he believes in ‘evolutionary growth’ and wants to first achieve ‘critical mass domestically before venturing into export markets’.

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