Diesel, which is normally used in automobiles, buses, trucks and even railway engines and is considered "dirty", has been turned into a clean fuel for cooking and lighting in rural areas courtesy a device developed at the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), an NGO in Phaltan, Maharashtra.

Called "Lanstove", the diesel-powered gadget is claimed to simultaneously provide light (equivalent to that from a 200 watt electric bulb) and enable the cooking of a complete meal for a family of five. Besides it can purify 10 litres of water for drinking.

"It is ideal for rural households that do not have electricity," Anil Rajvanshi, an Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur alumnus and NARI director, told IANS.

The Lanstove has been tested for the last two months in five rural huts in western Maharashtra. "It has shown excellent results without producing smoke or smell and provides better light than a hurricane lantern," Rajvanshi added.

The carbon monoxide (CO) level from the Lanstove – a measure of combustion efficiency – is less than three parts per million (ppm) compared to 250-400 ppm emitted by regular coal or wood-fired "chulhas" (traditional stoves). "Thus Lanstove is an extremely clean device, equivalent to an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) stove for cooking," he said.

NARI had earlier developed a Lanstove running on kerosene but unavailability of the fuel for the rural poor hampered its growth. "Hence we thought it prudent to use diesel which is available everywhere and accordingly modified the kerosene Lanstove," Rajvanshi said.

"Every fuel is dirty and it is the way it is burnt that makes it clean or unclean," Rajvanshi said. "Lanstove’s combustion technology allows diesel to burn very cleanly in this device," he said.

Lanstove that will cost less than Rs.3,000 ($48) when mass-produced has been so designed that the diesel is stored in a slightly pressurized seven-litre cylinder from where it flows into the combustor and burns very cleanly. This detachable cylinder can be re-filled in diesel pump stations somewhat like getting an LPG cylinder changed.

However, for the Lanstove to spread on a large scale in rural areas, an enlightened government policy is needed to make diesel available at a subsidized rate of Rs.30 per litre to poor people through the "Aadhar" card, Rajvanshi said.

"With this diesel subsidy, the Lanstove’s running cost will be equal to that of subsidized LPG for cooking and subsidized electricity for lighting."

NARI estimates that at Rs. 30 per litre the total diesel subsidy bill for 35,000 Indian villages that are not electrified, will come to about Rs. 126 billion – less than one-third of the subsidy given at present for LPG.

"With diesel subsidy given to rural poor, around 21 million rural households will immediately benefit with excellent light and clean cooking technology," Rajvanshi said.