Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Andrew Kular cooks up a clean stove technology with help from Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation

AirStoveOne Incorporated participates in programs offered by Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI), made possible with support from the Government of Canada to Queen’s University through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the Scale-up Platform Project.

Sitting in the Queen’s Startup Runway space provided by Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation in Kingston’s Seaway Coworking facility, Andrew Kular holds up a small device in his right hand for the camera connected to his computer.  A Zoom-based computer visual doesn’t generally give the clearest picture in the world, but it is possible to see a blue spark sputtering across a small gap between two electrodes. Strictly speaking it is an arc of plasma – air that has been supercharged with electricity until it becomes a conductor. You can’t tell just by watching it of course but that spark is hot, very hot – it hits about five thousand degrees Celsius after a few seconds.

Andrew Kular, Founder of AirStoveOne, demonstrates how his invention works.

This is just one part of an exciting technology for which Kular has recently received his Canadian patent, granted for what that document terms an “enriched air stove.” That’s a prosaic name, and one that really doesn’t do his invention justice. Combine this ignition device with a fuel source such as wood pellets or other biofuels and then feed it an enriched air supply through a specially designed manifold and you have a system that ensures virtually complete combustion. The result is an efficient stove (and there are plenty of other applications) that is not only low cost to run, but will help fight climate change.

Kular’s idea has its origins in a United Nations backed search for a clean stove launched in 2014. At that point, the World Health Organization estimated that a stunning three billion people worldwide relied on solid fuels to do their cooking – wood, peat, even dung in some places. These fires contribute to pollution and climate change and the WHO estimated at the time that 4.3 million people die each year from the effects of burning such fuels in inefficient stoves, often indoors. Plenty of people were working on this, but most of the solutions he saw were “just nibbling around the edges of the problem.” He thought he could do better.

“This wasn’t my first rodeo,” Kular is quick to point out. Back in the 1990s, he had tinkered with a way of charging laptops by mounting photovoltaic panels on their outside. That mutated into a way of charging laptops based on the then novel idea of using their USB port. “I’m the guy who high-jacked the USB communication standard and turned it into a power standard,” he says. Although he is no longer involved, the company he founded, Ecosol Solar Technologies, is still around under a different name.

Creating a truly clean stove depends on three factors. One, is the fuel source. When talking about the role carbon dioxide plays in climate change, it is important, says Kular, to differentiate between in-cycle carbon and out-of-cycle carbon. “People often get those confused.” In-cycle carbon includes trees and plants and even the carbon dioxide that we exhale when we breathe. “Oil and coal and everything that is buried is out-of-cycle carbon.” The problem lies with taking that out of cycle carbon and combusting that – especially inefficiently. This adds ever higher levels of CO2 to the atmosphere. His stove is designed to use in-cycle carbon. In theory, it could use any organic material, but that creates logistical problems – you’d need a wheelbarrow full of wood shavings to cook a meal.  Compressed biomass wood pellets or other forms of compressed biomass would be a better choice.

“But if you touch a match to wood pellets,” he says, “all they’ll do is smoulder.” How to ignite it? The high temperature device he held up for the camera is one part of the answer. The other came from personal experience.

“I used to dive a lot as a kid,” he says. “And in those days, we used compressed air as our air source.” Since then, however, all divers, even amateur ones, have switched to nitrox, an enriched air source that features a higher oxygen content. Kular’s stove features a manifold that combines regular air with this enriched oxygen – it could be commercially available nitrox, or it might be created by a filter attached to the manifold. Bathe those wood pellets in this enriched air mixture and hit them with a plasma stream and it breaks down the fuel into very simple carbon molecules and is almost entirely combusted. “All that comes off is a little bit of water, and some actual carbon you could spread on your garden,” he says. AirStoveOne, as he calls it, burns so cleanly, you can even use it indoors. He incorporated his company, AirStoveOne Incorporated, in April 2018.

As a resident of nearby Wolfe Island, connecting with Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation in Kingston made good sense.  He moved into the QPI’s location in Innovation Park in 2018 and when the team shifted to their current Bagot Street location moved there, where he has kept working throughout COVID-19. He is currently part of QPI’s Runway program aimed at companies that have a product or idea, but as yet no regular, recurring revenues. Given his previous experience as an entrepreneur, Kular’s situation is a little different from many other participants in the program, but he says, “It’s still a positive place to be.”

“It’s a good bunch of talents,” he says of the people at QPI. “Rick Boswell [QPI’s Assistant Director of Programs and Operations] is an invaluable person to know and Amanda Gilbert [QPI’s Communications Coordinator] is a super organized person who gets things done. I have my own patent agents, but the patent people here are great to bounce ideas off.”

“They have found talent for me – I have four Queen’s engineering grads working for me – and I even connected with a good electrical engineer because he plays soccer with someone who worked next to me.” For Kular, his relationship to QPI is a two-way street: “I’m a resource for the guys that are in their twenties here.”

He had originally hoped to license the technology to barbecue manufacturers, but that has not worked out. “They’re all operating in niches, more or less monopolistically,” he says, “so there’s no great incentive to adopt new technology.” He’s looking into manufacturing it. “I’ve gone that route before,” he says. With that in mind, he’s having additional design work done and some other parts fabricated in Switzerland.

And thinking ahead. Holding up his stove’s manifold, a longitudinal square metal box open at both ends, he says, “I plan to make this right here.” Somewhere down the line, “This will be Kingston’s largest manufacturing industry.”