First, let’s talk about the name : when Prakti started making cookstoves, we wanted to come up with names for the different models. Our first stove was big and we called it Moby (think Moby Dick) and so when our second, smaller and better stove came about we decided, logically, to call it “Orca”.
The birth of our Orca stove more or less coincided with the tragic earthquake that hit Haïti 2010. More than 300,000 people were killed, several hundred thousand were injured and nearly 1.5 million were left homeless. As a consequence, lots of relief organizations sprung in Haiti to bring basic necessities to the population. We knew someone at the ILF who was interested in seeing if we could develop a stove that could run on briquettes to use at schools. The requirements were challenging: coming up with a stove that runs on briquettes (a new thing at the time for us) big enough to cook for 200 people. With a description of briquettes we proceeded with some remote tests in India, where Prakti’s lab was based at the time, and came up with a prototype to bring to Haiti.
Confident that Orca would work, Mouhsine embarked on a plane journey with the big stove and 6 smaller ones, a rather weird piece of luggage. That travel in itself was the first challenge that he was faced with on the Orca journey to Haiti but a bigger challenge awaited… When arriving in Haiti, Mouhsine was invited to do the first field test for the stove the next morning: the meeting would be at 4am to cook lunch for 200 kids using only the Orca stove. He was up for the task, sure that the stove would work great until he saw the briquettes that were available. They were totally different from what we’d used in India to test, not dense. He said nothing and hurried to his room to make tests. The results were awful: smoky, no flames and impossible to bring the water to a boil...Which left him with a night to try and come up with a solution!
He himself admitted that fear of humiliation was perhaps his most powerful incentive for innovation.. The night proved to be full of reflections for him. First on the briquettes. At the time, briquettes were strongly advocated by foreign NGOs and Bill Clinton was totally sold on the concept: making cheap fuel with trash! Yet, here in Haiti most briquettes went unsold and each shop had plenty of stock: they didn’t burn well so people didn’t buy them. It was too late to do anything on the briquettes and so he thought back on a discussion with a PhD on combustion and tried to test stacking the briquettes so that air would flow between them and see if that would enhance combustion. It did!
Simple as that: the briquettes went from horrible to great, making a good flame and easily bringing water to the boil. The first test went great with the stove running only in briquettes (instead of the usual charcoal) and making very little smoke. The cooking staff was also pleased and proud to use this stove, they even nicknamed it “Canada” for its looks (a sturdy shiny stove) and the fact that it was cold (not radiating warmth as their fires usually do, which means they have to stand really far from the stove and cook by stretching their arms).
A bad start for the Orca stove proved to be a success story helping in many more schools in Haiti and Sudan. Helping to feed while using less resources and making less smoke thus preserving the environment and the health of the cooks.