Biodegradable Waste Resources: An Alternative to Charcoal Briquettes

Biodegradable Waste Resources: An Alternative to Charcoal Briquettes

Charcoal briquettes made from agricultural waste. Photo courtesy of Hillington Ziwa, Green Bio Energy

Author: Shittu Kehinde Paul |

Our Dream Africa: Utilising wood fuel as a source of energy has detrimental effects on the climate and ecosystem of Africa. What is the greatest way to break the trend?


According to the World Future Council, nearly 80% of homes in Africa rely on charcoal as a primary source of energy and the continent consumes more than 23 million tons of charcoal annually. The charcoal business has put deforestation into an overdrive aggravating the already serious climate change implications in Africa. Expert on climate change Lee White claims that although Africa formerly had seven million square kilometres of trees, a third of them have since disappeared, with the majority being converted to charcoal.

Charcoal is made from wood which is burnt in low oxygen environment and the process removes water, methane, hydrogen and tar from wood which results into small portions of char that are almost pure carbon which are used to generate heat mainly for cooking purpose. Charcoal is a more efficient source of power than using regular wood. Because it doesn’t emit smoke and it is easy to transport. However, the process of charcoal burning wastes 60% of the wood and leaves only 40% as char, making it hazardous for the environment.

According to Food and Agricultural Organization, the majority of Africans, particularly those living in sub-Saharan Africa, lack access to power as their continent produces only 5% of the world’s total electricity. Charcoal, on the other hand, is less expensive than cooking gas, electricity and kerosene and is easily found throughout the continent.

The African countries’ high population growth rate and urbanization have transformed people’s lifestyles, and as a result, the charcoal industry is expanding. People in these countries now use charcoal either as their primary source of income or as a supplement.

Even though it is mostly unregulated, Tanzania’s charcoal market was estimated to be value US$ 150 million in 2009 and has expanded rapidly since then. Charcoal production creates over 10,000 jobs and brings in over US$ 45 million a year in Nigeria, making it the 10th largest exporter of Wood charcoal in the world, according to The Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Many African countries’ economies are genuinely being fueled by this growing industry; in the past 20 years, charcoal output has increased in these countries. Some estimates have it at a doubling and individuals are profiting from this very industry as manufacturers and resellers.

Problem Statement

Due to its rapid acceleration of deforestation, charcoal is a widely used and profitable power source that has disastrous consequences for Africa. Deforestation is a major issue that has many connected effects and will make climate change more dangerous.

The World Health Organization reports that smoke from fires burning solid fuels, such as wood, kills over 10,000 people worldwide per day, more than the total fatalities toll from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. By the end of the twenty-first century, 182 million people in Africa could perish as a result of climate change, according to projections by the Christian aid agency. Regulating the charcoal industry has been at best sporadic and absent in most African countries.

Proposed Solution and Procedure

Accepting the use of biodegradable waste resources to make the alternative charcoal briquettes. Biodegradable waste materials are gathered, with the exception of metals, plastics, and polythene. Examples of these waste products include peelings from potatoes, cassava, and bananas, as well as banana stems and fibers, maize cobs, sawdust, sliced grass, and leaves. After drying them for a day or two to lower the moisture content, they are put in a metallic container and burned with a small amount of oxygen to get char.

A 5:4:1 kilogramme ratio of char is combined with a cooked suspension of cassava flour (similar to porridge) and a clay soil suspension. The purpose of clay soil is to improve the briquettes’ weight, heat retention, and cooking durability. The starch in the cassava flour is what makes it useful for binding the clay and char mixture together so that it can be easily moulded into the proper forms. After one to three days of drying, the molded mixture (briquettes) are prepared for use or selling.

Why Briquettes?

Firstly, they are simple to prepare, require less time than charcoal, and can be made with widely available materials in any household. They are not only affordable for homes but also environmentally beneficial because they retain heat better than charcoal during cooking and stay longer.

Briquette production is a low-capital, low-energy activity that suggests women can participate in this kind of revenue-generating work. This can mitigate the disparity in income between genders by addressing the exclusion of women from economic possibilities. Thus, this could serve as a platform to improve the standing of women in Africa.

In contrast to most other ineffective solutions, such as educating the public about the value of forests and regulating the industry, briquettes provide the most suitable solution for burning charcoal because they provide a workable alternative energy source, leaving charcoal as the only available option.In addition to being a waste management solution for houses, briquettes can also serve to improve community and household sanitation. Along with lowering government spending on trash management, it can also lower household waste disposal bills.

Plausible Challenges and Their Solution

Purchasing a metal container requires money, but once it’s acquired, it’s cost-effective because it lasts longer. As a starting point, a kilogramme of cassava flour costs less than a dollar.

Some of the leftover materials used to make briquettes, such as sweet potato and banana peelings, are also fed to animals, which could cause competition. Nonetheless, there are other easily accessible biodegradable waste items.

People can only access clay soil in close proximity to wetlands and other bodies of water. Because of this, persons who live far from water bodies may need to pay for transportation expenses in order to get clay. But once you have enough money and start producing more, this becomes a non-issue. To stop the harmful effects of charcoal, new development options must be introduced to rural and impoverished populations, and the economic benefits of charcoal must be immediately replaced. Sustainable energy solutions are also needed.

By taking this idea into consideration, an estimated four million hectares of forests that are cut down each year for charcoal production will be conserved, significantly lowering the threat posed by climate change, and achieving Our Dream Africa, that harmonizes economic development plus environmental conservation will be achieved.

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