Although one may not think of a “cardboard” box as the latest invention, it may be what could ‘save the world.”

Diarrhea caused by inadequate sanitation is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. At the same time, deforestation to produce firewood in some of the poorest countries in the world stokes climate change and promotes the loss of global biodiversity. Now, Norwegian inventor Jon Bøhmer hopes to kill all of these birds with one stone thanks to a creation he’s named the Kyoto Box.

Did you know? 2.5 billion people live without proper water sanitation.

The “mind-bogglingly simple” device, as Bøhmer puts it, is constructed of two cardboard boxes, one inside the other. The outer one is coated with aluminum foil, the inner one is painted black, and a transparent acrylic sheet is placed on top. It all works together to trap and concentrate the sun’s rays to cook things placed in the box. The Kyoto box is designed to be hot enough to boil water or even to bake bread. Ironically, it all relies on the greenhouse effect! In addition to providing clean water, the Kyoto box can also protect the health of people who use it in other ways, as they no longer have to travel many kilometres to collect firewood, or inhale smoke while they cook with it.

Did you know? According to the UN, one person requires at least 20 litres of clean freshwater a day to meet their basic needs. The Kyoto box can produce this in just two hours!

The box costs about $10 CDN to produce, and can boil 10 litres of water in two hours – not bad for something that started as a project for Bøhmer to work on with his two young daughters. Construction of the prototype took “about a weekend, and it worked first try,” he told CNN. Another attractive aspect of the design of the Kyoto box is how easily tens of thousands of them could be built. “It’s really the mass manufacturing aspect,” Bøhmer explained to BBC news. “We can take existing factories like cardboard factories and begin to make thousands and thousands of the cookers each month.” He has also designed a sturdier model built of corrugated plastic that can be produced in large quantity in existing factories, as inexpensively as the cardboard prototype.

The simplicity of the Kyoto box, its extremely low cost, and its potential impact in the developing world, all helped Bøhmer and his company, Kenya-based Kyoto Energy, win $75 000 US in the FT Climate Change Challenge. The goal of the contest was to find and promote simple and creative ways to combat global warming; other entries included livestock feed designed to reduce methane emissions, and truck wheel covers designed to cut fuel use by reducing drag.

Did you know? Carbon credit trading in sub-Saharan Africa can potentially reduce global carbon emissions by over 700 million tonnes per year!

Despite the revolutionary approach to water sanitation possible with the Kyoto box, Bøhmer remained humble: “a lot of scientists are working on ways to send people to Mars. I was looking for something a little more grassroots, a little simpler.” He hopes to test the Kyoto box in a number of countries where obtaining clean water is a problem, including South Africa, Uganda, and India. The trials will allow these countries to obtain carbon credits, currently in discussion in the United Nations, as it will greatly reduce the need for people to cut down trees for firewood. These credits can be traded, thus providing an inexpensive and green way for developing countries to stimulate their economies. In this way, the Kyoto box may indirectly help solve another problem – getting developing nations out of the global recession!

Though the Kyoto box may have a big-picture impact, but Bøhmer’s goal with its manufacture is relatively small. He says, “We’re saving lives and saving trees. I doubt if there is any other technology that can make so much impact for so little money…. I don’t want to see another 80-year-old woman carrying 20 kilos of firewood on her back. Maybe we don’t have to.”

Key terms:

Carbon credit: under a “cap-and-trade” system, companies are limited in how many tonnes of carbon dioxide they can emit. They are allowed to emit more, if they spend money on projects to reduce an equal amount of emissions elsewhere – getting “credit” for the emissions they prevented.

Learn More!

Solar-powered cooker wins prize for climate change innovation.


Inventor turns cardboard boxes into eco-friendly oven.


UN Water Statistics – Water Resources.


Can carbon trading spur growth?


Derek van Pel

I am working on a Ph.D in Molecular Biology at the University of British Columbia, where my research is aimed at finding new anti-cancer therapeutics that can target weaknesses specific to tumour cells. I am an avid science educator, and when I'm not in the lab, writing for CurioCity, or volunteering with Let's Talk Science, I can be found teaching a 3rd year undergraduate biochemistry lab!

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