Alumnus Helps Provide Clean Cookstoves Abroad

Alumnus Leo Taranta-Slack with Prakti testers

When alumnus Leo Taranta-Slack (Mechanical Engineering, ‘21) learned about an organization with the goal of providing clean cookstoves to households throughout the world, he decided to put his engineering skills to work. His background made him a good fit for Prakti. 

Prakti is a company that designs, manufactures and distributes clean cooking stoves that are affordable and efficient. According to data from the World Health Organization, polluting fuels is a major contributor to health problems, especially for women and children. Traditional cookstoves are a contributor to these issues. Prakti’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions and improve health standards while empowering women to maintain their cultural cooking traditions in a safer way.

Taranta-Slack is a product development engineer and operations manager at Prakti. Part of his role includes designing the products and conducting research in the villages where people will eventually use the products. 

“Traditional cookstoves are still used by a third of the world’s population,” Taranta-Slack explained. “The cookstoves have the same climate impact as airlines. That’s why cookstoves are so interesting. They are like a center stone of technology that is attached to other environmental impacts.” 

Research from the World Health Organization explains that the use of solid fuels and kerosene in households can cause health problems, such as lower respiratory issues, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. Prakti’s goal in providing clean cookstoves is to not only reduce the amount of carbon emissions but to prioritize safety so people don’t suffer health risks while cooking.  

Taranta-Slack has performed field tests of their products in slums, villages and small towns to get user feedback for the cleaner stove modifiers. Two of the places he tested the products were in Himachal and Kolkata in India. His coworker, Lea Serrar, also performed user testing in small villages north of Chiang Mai in Thailand, where locals provided useful feedback about the Prakti Air Cookstove Modifiers. 

During testing, Taranta-Slack noticed that some locals were resistant to changing their stoves due to expensive fuel costs or the unfamiliar style of the new cookstoves. Because of the feedback, the Prakti team has been able to apply user input to redesign and perfect their products so they are more likely to be adopted.  

“One of the things we are trying with this new stove is it can be a retrofit to their current stoves,” Taranta-Slack said. “It is easily brought around the world and is lighter than our original stove.” 

A traditional cookstove retrofitted with the Prakti Air device
A traditional cookstove retrofitted with the Prakti Air device

The team members at Prakti perform hands-on work in different departments of the organization. Serrar works alongside Taranta-Slack as a mechanical engineer, but she is also responsible for project management, fundraising, marketing, product design and field testing. 

“Before graduation, I’d always dreamed of working for a company that would use my technical skills to solve environmental issues for folks in areas without the resources to solve them themselves,” Serrar explained. “I believe engineers are responsible for using their knowledge to develop climate solutions, and Prakti practices this responsibility while not forcing their solution onto the users.” 

While the environmental impact is a contributing factor in the product design, the team at Prakti aims to put people first when finalizing their products. 

“The thing I hope to see most is happy cooks,” Serrar shared. “I want them to enjoy cooking with a powerful flame and save money buying fuel or time spent collecting fuel. I want them to feel comfortable having their children and other family members in the kitchen with them while they cook.” 

The team members at Prakti have different skills and backgrounds that will help the organization’s goals. Taranta-Slack attributes his success in a changing work environment to the dynamic coursework at Cal Poly. 

“The practicality and hands-on aspect of my studies was important to the smooth transition into this job,” Taranta-Slack said. “I am not just doing engineering work but also doing communications, 3D modeling, thermodynamics and testing.” 

While there are plenty of traditional engineering paths for Cal Poly students to take, Taranta-Slack encourages students to try something new. 

“I want to be able to inspire other students to take nontraditional career paths and choose things that are impact-focused and that they are passionate about,” Taranta-Slack said. “That kind of thing is out there; you just have to look for it.” 

To learn more about Prakti cookstoves and the work the organization is doing, visit the Prakti website. 

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By Taylor Villanueva


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