Inventor of biomass-fired cooking stove wins BT young scientist top award

18 Jan 2010

A few tin cans and a penknife were all an 18-year-old Cork student needed to get started on inventing a revolutionary biomass-fired cooking stove for developing countries that secured the top prize at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

Now Richard O’Shea from Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal, Blarney, Co Cork, wants to get these stoves to developing countries as quickly as possible and he’s working with charities like Trócaire and Concern to make it happen, he told Friday night.

His design makes it possible to build highly efficient, smoke-free stoves from items like tin cans. Every year, 2 billion people across the world rely on burning biomass materials like wood, dung and plants to cook their food.

All about help

Asked about how quickly he wants to bring his design to market, O’Shea said: “This is not about bringing it to market, this is not commercial, I just want to get this into the hands of the people who need it as soon as possible.”

He explained that every year thousands of people in the developing world who cook indoors in poorly ventilated homes die from smoke inhalation and his biomass-fired cooking stove could save lives.

“Richard received the prestigious honour for his pioneering work on the design of a biomass-fuelled cooking stove for use in developing countries,” explained Intel’s Leonard Hobbs, chief judge, technology.

“Over 2 billion people in the world depend on stoves to cook their meals every day, and his project built a new one which uses as little fuel as possible and which ideally produces no smoke.

“Richard made a strong impression on the judges with his detailed research into the chemical processes involved in burning timber, and with the various designs he came up with using very simple materials, such as tin cans and nails, which are very easy to find in third-world countries.

“An added bonus is that his stoves can be built using simple tools, such as a Swiss army knife. Richard impressed us with both his science knowledge and the engineering skill he showed in his construction work,” Hobbs said.


Minister for Science, Technology, Innovation and Natural Resources with special responsibility for the Knowledge Society, Conor Lenihan TD, presented Richard with a cheque for €5,000, a Waterford Crystal trophy and the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 21st European Union Contest for Young Scientists taking place in Lisbon, Portugal, this coming September.

“It has been an incredibly successful exhibition and we are delighted that schools from both the Republic and Northern Ireland have won top prizes.

“The 2010 exhibition has really resonated with those that participated this year, perhaps due to the increasing realisation that its focus on skills and innovation has never been as important for our economic growth.

“It certainly stands out as a breakthrough year for entrepreneurship, with a large number of students seeing for themselves the commercial potential of their work. We believe Richard’s innovative idea, for example, has huge potential to become a commercial success, and we hope the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition will prove the catalyst for this.”

Some 1,135 students competed this week, with 509 projects from 32 counties across Ireland.

Other winners

Further awards presented included Best Group, which went to Paul McKeever and Bryan Murphy, Abbey Christian Brothers Gs, Co Down, for their project entitled ‘Specs Detector’, which was entered in the intermediate section of the technology category. They receive a prize of €2,400 and a BT perpetual trophy. This project also won the NI award, new in 2010, which was presented to the best overall project from entries throughout Northern Ireland.

The award for group runner-up went to Leona Chow and Mollieanne Gallagher, Alexandra College, Co Dublin. They were awarded €1,200 and a BT perpetual trophy for their project entitled ‘In vitro study of how various amounts of alcohol and caffeine affect protein degradation by the stomach enzyme pepsin’, entered in the intermediate section of the biological and ecological sciences category.

The award for individual runner-up went to Hannah Eastwood from Loreto College Coleraine, Co Derry, for her project entitled ‘Green rust the good gal’, entered in the senior section of the chemical, physical and mathematical sciences category. She was awarded €1,200 and a BT perpetual trophy.

By John Kennedy

Photo: A jubilant Richard O’Shea (centre) with BT Ireland CEO Chris Clark and Minister for Science, Technology, Innovation and Natural Resources Conor Lenihan TD

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years