Caitlyn Peake, a PSU environmental science graduate and current AsoFenix intern speaks about making charcoal briquettes in El Roblar Nicaragua.
The other day, a youth from my community, El Roblar, asked me how I could stand all the dirty air in Managua. He then continued, informing me how pure and clean the air is in the campo by comparison. I laughed and asked if he had ever stepped foot in a kitchen in the campo. Kitchens in El Roblar, and in the campo in general, can be unbearably smoky as families use wood as the primary fuel source to cook with. He paused for a minute and admitted that the air in the campo is not as pure and clean as it appeared and that is the women of the community that are exposed to smoke day and night for the benefit of the men.
Unfortunately, this is the reality of life in the developing world where the burning of biomass accounts for 80% of household fuel consumption. The burning of unprocessed biomass, like wood, leads to deforestation and emits smoke and particulate that cause respiratory illness. Burning carbonized biomass like charcoal reduces particulate emissions and respiratory illness. Fuels from the Field, a project from the D-Lab at MIT, developed a cheap and simple way to turn agricultural waste into charcoal. In March of 2010, four students from D-Lab visited El Roblar and taught the community how to make charcoal out of corn stalks and other readily available agricultural waste.
Here is an overview of the process:
We started by gathering dried corn stalks, husks, and sugar cane leaves as the source of biomass to carbonize.
Materials are then loaded into a 55 gallon drum to be burned.
The materials are lit on fire and then sealed to create anaerobic conditions (it must burn with oxygen present) in order to carbonize the materials.
Once the drum is sealed, it is left to burn for at least 2 hours. Afterward, the drum is opened and the carbonized material is taken out to turn into charcoal briquettes.
The carbonized material is then broken up into fine pieces, a binder (made from cassava, green plantains or any other starchy material) is added, and then loaded into a press to compress into briquettes.
Finally, the briquettes are dried in the sun for a couple of days. Then they are ready for use.
I also want to give thanks and photo credit to the students from MIT for allowing me to use their photos for this blog.