Energy access in the developing world

Cookstoves. Microgrids. Energy Innovations.

The Colorado State University Energy Institute works to provide energy access in the developing world through faculty and student university exchanges, research, consultant work and spin out companies. All of our work on energy aims to make a positive impact on a global scale.

Some of our current projects create cleaner ways of cooking food, harness natural sources of energy (i.e. methane gas or the sun), and bring remote villages power.

Smart cooking

Nearly half of the world’s population burns biomass fuel (wood, grass, cow manure etc.) to meet their home energy needs from cooking to heating. Biomass combustion releases harmful chemicals, climate change causing greenhouse gases and fine particulate matter into the air.

This type of combustion has detrimental effects on human health, the environment and our global climate, and often isn’t the most efficient use of energy. Our Advanced Biomass Combustion Lab, housed at the CSU Powerhouse Energy Campus, researches ways to minimize harmful emissions and increase the durability and longevity of cookstoves in use around the world.

Tuk Tuk on Bangalore Street.

In 2000, the CSU Energy Institute (then known as the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory) started tackling snowmobiles and their two-stroke engines, which generate large amounts of pollution. They adapted a technology from the natural gas industry to build cleaner-running snowmobiles. The team replaced the traditional carburetor with direct, in-cylinder fuel injection and built the cleanest-running snowmobile on the market at the time. Soon thereafter they turned their attention it to improving two-stroke engines used in pedicabs in the developing world and launched a CSU spin out company called Envirofit International to sell retrofit kits.

The company grew into producing and selling clean-burning cookstoves for people in the developing world. Envirofit International upended the conventional model of having villagers make their own cookstoves and focused on producing quality cookstoves that could be distributed to different parts of the world. Together with the CSU Energy Institute several cookstoves have been developed, including the S and G series stoves.

Today, Envirofit International continues to develop clean cooking technologies that “cook faster while reducing fuel use, smoke, and toxic emissions.” More than  5 million people in energy poverty use Envirofit’s smart stoves.

A retail shop in India selling Envirofit cookstoves.

In 2017,  Envirofit International launched its SmartGas™ program. This innovative program uses liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) like you’d find in your propane grill as a source of energy. Rather than making household living in energy poverty pay for the entire tank of LPG, Envirofit International developed a pay-as-you-go model.

“Through Envirofit’s SIM/GPS enabled SmartGas™ Valve, families will be able to use their phones to pre-pay for gas as needed using mobile money. This transaction activates the valve to supply the purchased amount of gas, thus allowing customers to pay-as-you-cook with clean LPG at a price comparable to daily charcoal,” stated Envirofit International in a recent press release.

Turning the power on

CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Campus is home to the Smart Village Microgrid Laboratory, which is a state-of-the-art lab that aims to gain deeper understanding of village-level electrification by modeling remote villages with plug-and-play technologies. CSU researchers are currently working with the government of Rwanda to test and install microgrids in rural communities without access to traditional electric power, and to create a mirror microgrid lab at the University of Rwanda.

In 2016, the World Bank Board approved 24 African Centers of Excellence (ACEs) for eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. Four of those, including the African Center for Excellence in Energy for Sustainable Development (ACEESD) are based at the University of Rwanda (UR). UR invited the CSU’s Energy Institute to help create this new center and build a mirror microgrid lab for their faculty and students. Two UR researchers visited the Powerhouse for a month in May to learn about our lab . Now, the lab is being built at UR. Once completed it will allow for continued collaboration between the two institutions, and also help electrify remote villages in Rwanda in need of power.

Harnessing power

Via Wikicommons. CC 2.0. Steve Evans from Citizen of the World – Congo: Lake Kivu Uploaded by PDTillman

Our team of experts is also working to help harness the power of Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes, that lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The lake contains some 60 billion cubic meters of methane and 300 billion cubic meters of carbon dioxide. The gases, which come from nearby volcanic activity and bacteria decomposing organic material in the lake. At some point, the pressure of the gases in the lake will exceed the pressure of water and result in a dangerous eruption. CSU is currently in talks with a U.S. based company that wants to harvest the gas from the lake and convert it to a simple type of cooking gas (Dimethyl ether).

Access to Energy Experts

Thomas Bradley
Associate Professor
Mechanical Engineering

Jerry Dugan
Lab Manager
Smart Village Microgrid Lab at the CSU Energy Institute

John Mizia
Director of the Advanced Biomass Combustion Lab
CEO and co-founder of Qapture Inc.


Jason Quinn

Jason Quinn
Assistant professor
Mechanical Engineering

Dan Zimmerle
Senior Research Associate
Director of METEC