I am a 4th year mechanical engineering student in the humanitarian engineering program, and this past summer I interned at the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Oregon. My work at Aprovecho consisted of testing intervention systems to improve air quality in kitchens where people are cooking with wood-burning cookstoves. I spent the summer conducting experiments in Aprovecho’s Test Kitchen to gain better understanding of how smoke from a wood burning stove fills a space, and how to reduce harmful smoke exposure for cooks and their families. 

Aprovecho Research Center is a non-profit cookstove design firm that focuses on developing ways to make cook stoves cleaner-burning and more efficient thereby decreasing the amount of fuel burned and emissions produced including black carbon going into our atmosphere and  health-harming fine particles (PM) inhaled by individuals. Ultimately we hope that this research will provide insights into low cost interventions that can reduce the harmful health effects of cooking by the 40% of the world’s population that currently relies on biomass burned in open fires to meet the majority of their energy needs.

The test kitchen is a room at Aprovecho Research Center that has adjustable ventilation and is used to simulate the kitchens of many people all over the world. This helps researchers to understand what levels of emissions people are exposed to, and how to improve those conditions. The cook stove user sits outside the room and operates the stove while sensors collect carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and PM levels in the room and above the stove.

Photo of test Kitchen

The project began with getting several types of preliminary data. Data on air quality while a stove was burning was taken in the test kitchen with no smoke intervention systems, and then with an intervention system such as a ventilation exhaust fan in place. My job for this portion of the test kitchen project was to use Excel Macros to compile the test and calibration data into tables for it to be analyzed. I also performed 30 minute stove tests, helped analyze the data with my superiors and spent time writing up what we were doing and why. I learned a lot about calibration and how research work is done using different machines and analysis techniques. 

After collecting preliminary data of the test kitchen with no intervention system, I was asked to make the intervention fan bigger. I determined the best way to increase the fan ventilation rate based on the data, constructed the new fan configuration, and install it into the test kitchen so it could be tested. This was one of my favorite projects at Aprovecho because I had to be innovative in my thinking, was able to participate in every step of development, and I saw the results of it in action.

Photo of Fan Configuration

After determining the efficiency of this new fan, I was asked to make a hood that would incorporate the fan. This hood was essentially a large box with an enclosed top to trap the smoke and a hole in the side for the fan. I then tested this new configuration and processed all the data. 

Interior of test kitchen and side view of hood


Front of hood

Data processing was complicated, but very rewarding as I was able to see how each piece of information played into the whole picture and how effective each configuration was. At the end of my internship it was determined that the hood and fan combination was the most effective, with cooking outside being a close second.

My entire project was based around making a journal article, so though I did spend time testing, designing and manufacturing, I also spent time drawing diagrams for the paper. As you can tell my roles at Aprovecho were far and wide, but I enjoyed that because I was able to play a role in each part of the whole system and each week was different. 

Now that my internship is over, I’m excited to see how this summer’s work will impact the world in the future. Though I don’t think people will start installing giant hoods into their homes or cutting holes out of the wall to make room for a fan, the data collected gave insight to the behavior of emissions in an enclosed space and will help guide engineers, entrepreneurs and every day people into making products and new systems that will affect  places positively while  simultaneously not changing the lifestyle, cultural beliefs, or way of life for a community.