Today at Berkeley Lab

Head of Stove-Testing Lab Wants to Clear the Air

— By Julie Chao

Coal-burning stoves are of more than mere academic interest to Yungang (Carl) Wang. His parents and grandparents grew up in rural China using coal-burning stoves for cooking and heating, and in his hometown of Beijing, the government is still trying to completely eradicate their usage.

“Those stoves emitted a lot of black soot,” Wang says. “I’ve always thought about using the knowledge I’ve learned to contribute to my own country, and help Chinese people to live longer and more healthy.”

As a Berkeley Lab postdoc now in charge of the stove-testing lab under Ashok Gadgil, Wang may be able to do just that. He oversees three doctoral students and six undergraduates who test cookstoves designed for Darfur, Ethiopia and Haiti.

The lab has just moved to a brand new location in its own building. Instead of sharing space in Building 60 it is now located in Building 75C. Plus, new equipment enables the scientists to get data on concentrations of black carbon, or soot; and the new duct system has been redesigned to meet EPA stationary sources monitoring requirements.

Gadgil, director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, is the guiding force behind the Darfur stove, which burns cleaner and more efficiently than the three-stone fire the Darfuri women traditionally use to cook. Now dubbed the “Berkeley Darfur Stove,” it emits less pollution while decreasing women’s exposure to violence since they have to spend less time gathering firewood outside the refugee camps.

Wang marvels at how quickly the Lab’s stove program has scaled up in the last five years — there are now more than 20,000 of the stoves being used in Darfur. The program may soon get even larger with $1.5 million from the U.S. development agency USAID to develop and test a sustainable distribution model for cookstoves in Darfur and Ethiopia. The money will be shared with the Darfur Stoves Project and UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action.

“I think potentially we can help another 20,000 families in Ethiopia,” Wang says. “Doing this type of research makes me really satisfied and happy. I can see I’m adding value not only to the research but to the overall welfare of society and air quality because we reduce emissions.”

Wang has a bachelors degree from Tsinghua University in Beijing, a masters from Texas A&M University, and a Ph.D. in environmental engineering with Prof. Philip K. Hopke from Clarkson University in New York, which he finished in record time, publishing 12 journal papers and getting his degree in a little less than three years. While his thesis focused on measurements and modeling of urban air quality, his research focus has now shifted to developing countries. “I have a strong passion for developing countries because I’m from the largest,” he says.

His parents back in China are extremely supportive of his work. His father, a telecommunications engineer, frequently sends him articles about China’s quest for cleaner burning stoves for heating and cooking. Wang himself hopes to attend a couple conferences in China later this year to deliver papers on the Lab’s stove work and spark some research collaborations.

Meanwhile, Gadgil has been an inspiring role model for him. “If your goals and your work are fully aligned, you will work the most efficiently, and you’ll have a great amount of output,” Wang says. “You will love your work and you will make a big impact, and eventually you’ll be a big thinker like Ashok.”