Freedom fuel: This Pune entrepreneur spawned a quiet clean cooking revolution; here is how

Vishakha Chandhere experiments with cooking devices powered by solar and biomass to beat rising LPG prices

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Sunday 18 September 2022

In the past four years, Vishakha Chandhere has spawned a quiet revolution of sorts from her city of Pune to beat the rising prices of cooking gas or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Every day, while preparing a lunch of dal, rice and vegetables for her family, she measures the ingredients, finds the perfect ratio of spices and mixes them in a steel vessel.

But instead of turning to an LPG stove, Chandhere carries the vessels up to the roof to place it in one of her three solar cookers — the first has a parabolic reflector that heats the base; the second one is an insulated box with light reflected mirrors on the base and the lid; and in the third cooker, food is placed inside a vacuum tube that concentrates light to generate heat.

“Food can be boiled, steamed or roasted in any of the three cookers,” Chandhere said. The only difference is that the parabolic solar cooker works well when there is excessive light; the tube model is best suited for cloudy days; and the box cooker, though it takes one to two hours to warm up, is suited for all conditions.

Chandhere also uses these cookers to prepare dinner early in the evening, when there is still some sunlight. “The food then stays warm in the device without any danger of being burnt or overcooked,” she said.

Since rotis do not cook well on solar cookers, she uses a biogas stove. “I have a portable biogas digester which provides enough methane by decomposing just 2 kg of food waste,” she said.

During monsoon or winter, when the solar cookers cannot run at full capacity, she uses a briquette stove fuelled by garden waste and coconut shells compressed with a briquetting machine.

An engineer by education, Chandhere has worked in the environment and clean energy sector. She began experimenting with clean cooking to find sustainable alternatives to expensive LPG cylinders.

“I needed about eight cylinders a year for my family of four. The shift to clean cooking helps me save about Rs 6,000 a year,” she added. The devices have cost her Rs 3 lakh. “But there is no recurring investment, unless I run out of food or garden waste,” she said.

Chandhere in 2018 launched a startup called Orjabox to share the lessons she had learnt and to promote clean cooking devices. It conducts sessions on eight clean cooking devices, including solar cookers, a biochar steam cooker that uses charcoal derived from agricultural waste and a rocket cookstove, a smokeless chulha that works on firewood.

Since these devices are not easily available, the startup also facilitates their purchase from manufacturers. Nivedita Kumbhar, a Pune resident, bought a box solar cooker six months ago after a workshop with Orjabox, and said, “The food tastes better as it is slow-cooked.”

Chandhere has also started to sell biomass and biochar briquettes, along with solar-dried onion, tomato, mint and ginger. “Other people can do their own experiments to generate additional income,” she said.

This was first published in the 1-16 September, 2022 edition of Down To Earth

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