Ten years ago, Jonathan Cedar and Alec Drummond were faced with a problem: Why is there no alternative to stinky kerosene for firing up the stove they brought along on nature trips? The two camping friends from New York set about developing it - with great success. At ISPO MUNICH 2016, the BioLite CampStove (retailing for around 160 euros) won in the ISPO BRANDNEW in the accessories category.
In an interview with ISPO.com, BioLite co-founder and CEO Jonathan Cedar tells how an idea became a company with 50 employees that fights toxic emissions, advocates for people in developing countries, and collaborates with NASA.
ISPO.com: Mr. Cedar, how did you come up with the idea of developing a camping stove that doesn't smoke-and also generates energy?
Jonathan Cedar: Co-founder Alec Drummond and I are avid campers. But one thing has always bothered us: in order to cook outside in nature, we always had to take a canister of kerosene with us. In 2006, we started our little project: We wanted to develop an efficient camping stove that runs on wood and doesn't pollute the environment with smoke.
It didn't stay with that little project.
That's right. Three years later, we had our first prototype, which we presented at a conference - and won a prize there completely unexpectedly. That was the first time we realized the huge potential of our CampStove. After all, half the planet still cooks with open fires, and this leads to the premature deaths of over four million people every year due to toxic smoke particles. So we split our company into two divisions: Outdoor and Energy, to work on solutions that especially help people in emerging markets to get along without these dangerous open fires. So, in addition to the CampStove, we also developed a HomeStove, which is designed specifically for home use.
Camping stove and emergency generator
The wood burns without any smoke at all. How is that possible?
This is what causes the most question marks among people: "You burn wood. But where did you put or hide the smoke?" Nowhere. Our patented thermoelectric technology makes it disappear. That's because it converts the excess heat from the fire into usable energy by driving a fan that blows air back into the combustion chamber. At that moment, the flame is swirled and becomes quite clear - improving combustion values immensely. Our technology reduces toxic emissions by up to 90 percent.
And the stove can also produce electricity at the same time?
Yes, after a few minutes it does. When the fire has reached a certain temperature and the small LED lamp on the CampStove glows green, cell phones, lamps or whatever other electrical devices you have in your luggage out in nature can be charged. You can connect the individual devices via a USB port.
Who is your target group for the high-tech stove?
The CampStove is designed for outdoor use. With it, you can prepare your food without harmful fuels like kerosene in an environmentally friendly and smoke-free way. This is especially attractive for campers. With the function of producing electricity at the same time, the product also appeals to the masses. Like city dwellers, for example, who always want to be accessible in the great outdoors. And there are also people who get a CampStove because they want to be prepared for emergencies. In the event of a major power outage, they can still boil water, prepare food and recharge batteries for lamps and cell phones.
Biolite: Sustainable and environmentally friendly
What role do sustainability and environmental protection play in your company philosophy?
A very big one. They are part of our origin story. It was always very frustrating for us to have to handle toxic fuels in nature. That didn't fit together. In addition to the CampStove, we have developed other environmentally friendly and sustainable products that store and save energy - like our SolarPanel or PowerLight. We also want to do our part to ensure that poor people, especially in emerging countries, have access to clean energy sources and are not exposed to toxic emissions day after day. Here, we are particularly active in India and Africa.
How big is your team at BioLite?
Our two-man project has now grown into a company with 50 employees. In the process, we were fortunate to have the support of mentors quite early on, who provided us with very good investors. This has enabled us to build a team over the past seven years that includes engineers and designers as well as a NASA rocket scientist.
What effect did winning ISPO BRANDNEW have for BioLite?
ISPO BRANDNEW has moved our idea and entire company forward. It promoted us to a global platform where we could present our vision and mission to an international audience of professionals. That was a great honor for us. Especially since we are not only active in the outdoor sector, but also focus on the topic of "energy for everyday life" with our HomeStove. Energy that is not meant to harm people, but to help them.
BioLite is located in the Brooklyn borough of New York. How pronounced is the outdoor scene in the middle of the "Big Apple"?
We have a very robust scene here. Not far from New York runs the Appalachian Trail, a 3,500-kilometer long-distance hiking trail. Within two hours, you can be out in nature by train or car - which is where we can extensively test our BioLite products.
Facts about BioLite
Name: BioLite, Inc.
Headquarters: Brooklyn, NY, USA
Number of employees: 50
Products: CampStove, CookStove, BaseCamp, PowerLight, SiteLight System, PowerLight Mini, SolarPanel5+.