Waste Biomass to Charcoal Briquettes

Waste Biomass to Charcoal Briquettes

There is an urgent need for sustainable fuel sources in Tanzania, where the majority of the population relies on conventional charcoal produced through (largely illegal) deforestation. Simple technologies can reduce the environmental impacts of charcoal, one of which is charcoal briquettes produced from woody and non-woody waste biomass such as grasses, agriculture residues and off-cuts from the forestry industry. Pyrolysis of this biomass (the chemical process of converting biomass into charcoal) requires simple equipment and generally results in a coarse charcoal dust („chardust“). Subsequent briquette pressing can be both manual (i.e. for household production) or mechanized (i.e. for commercial operations. Yet adoption of this so-called “green charcoal” has been hampered by questions over economic viability, technical performance, biomass availability and consumer acceptance. In this project (running 2016 to 2019) we will conduct action research in a pilot project to develop a sustainable business plan for a “green charcoal” enterprise in the Mufindi District (Iringa Region) of Tanzania. The project has four broad phases:

  1. Establish and train field teams of young green charcoal producers, provide them with required equipment and resources and develop with them the field operations, the financial mechanisms and value chain so they can profitably sell briquettes in nearby urban centers. A second start-up, TruTrade Ltd., will establish marketing links from the rural production site to end-consumers in larger towns and cities. Scheduled for Q3 and Q4, 2016.
  2. Demonstrate “proof of operational concept” by assessing the production efficiency of various biomass sources through field experiments measuring the chardust yield per biomass source (i.e. grasses, agricultural waste, forestry off-cuts). We will also identify and test alternatives to the existing field equipment for optimizing production (i.e. modifying kiln design, biomass collection and processing/drying strategies). Scheduled for 2017.
  3. Demonstrate “proof of economic concept” by producing and marketing several hundred tons of charcoal briquettes over a two year period. To ensure a sustainable, transparent and fair supply chain from charcoal dust producers in the southern highlands to briquette pressing and urban end consumers, we will develop a tracking and certification system with partner company TruTrade Ltd. (Tanzania) with their “Transaction Security Services” (TSS) for sourcing and marketing. Scheduled for 2017 and 2018.
  4. Assess the environmental impacts of up-scaling the operational model in the region using spatial modelling and scenario analysis. We will develop a supply-side spatial model of biomass availability in the surrounding districts in collaboration with partners from the Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern. This will identify sustainable expansion scenarios and the scope for positive environmental benefits (e.g. substitution of conventional charcoal, thus reducing overall pressures on forests in the region). Scheduled for 2018.
  5. Collect the required commercial data for detailed business plans for small green charcoal enterprises (charcoal dust teams and briquette producers). The finished business model will be presented to Tanzanian and Swiss donors/investors. Scheduled for Q3 and Q4, 2018.

For inquiries or updates, please see our contact section.

Project sponsors and partners: REPIC (Renewable energy and Energy efficiency Promotion in International Cooperation), FARIP (Fund for African Rural Innovation Promotion), RAVI (Rural African Ventures Investment), TruTrade Ltd. (Tanzania) and CDE (Centre for Development and Environment) of the University of Bern, Switzerland.

UPDATES:

Jan 24. 2017: The project has successfully concluded Phase 1. A production facility was established in Magunguli, Mufindi District, and test production has proved promising (see picture gallery below). Commercial production is currently being initiated and the first batch of „Green Charcoal“ is set to go to market early this year.

Check out the 2-part video of chardust and briquette production below, and here on YouTube.

 Igniting agriculrual waste in charcoal kilns made from old barrels

Igniting agriculrual waste in charcoal kilns made from old barrels

 Stored chardust

Stored chardust

 The final product

The final product

 Installing the chimney on the ignited material

Installing the chimney on the ignited material

 Chardust consistency

Chardust consistency

 Emptying chardust from a recently-used kiln

Emptying chardust from a recently-used kiln

 Producing carcoal briquettes using an adapted meat-grinder

Producing carcoal briquettes using an adapted meat-grinder

Part 1 of a two-part series documenting simple technology to produce charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste biomass (plantation offcuts, bark, maize stalks, woody farm residues etc.). Subtitles should be ON. Stay tuned for part 2.

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