Charcoal Briquette Project
Did you know one of the main drivers of deforestation in Madagascar is timber harvest for charcoal production?
The vast majority of people in Madagascar rely on charcoal or wood to cook their food, since only around 25% of the island nation's population has access to electricity. Finding alternatives to timber-based charcoal is necessary to slow deforestation, and The Phoenix Conservancy has a solution: grass and waste biomass charcoal briquettes.
If communities can utilize already abundant resources like dried grass, waste brush, and other biomass to create fuel for cooking, pressure to harvest timber will decrease. In combination with our restoration activities in Ivohiboro, Madagascar, charcoal briquettes represent a multitude of conservation and economic opportunities for communities.
Newly made grass-based charcoal briquettes dry on a mat in the sun.
Charcoal in Madagascar is typically made by cutting limbs off trees or felling trees entirely. Most charcoal production occurs in rural communities with nearby access to timber. However, instead of using the charcoal themselves, they sell the charcoal for use in towns and cities and rely on wood for their own cooking.
People transporting bags of timber-based charcoal to Ihosy, Madagascar.
Dire economic conditions are the root of Madagascar’s ecological degradation, inhibiting the restoration activities necessary to buffer the country from and adapt to climate change. Without economic systems that incentivize restoration, Madagascar’s already precarious state will devolve into catastrophe.
Grass and other waste biomass based charcoal briquettes represent an avenue to devalue deforestation while providing alternative income opportunities for communities who may rely on charcoal income to feed their families.
A person enters living quarters in the evening at the base of Ivohiboro.
A Sakoa tree stands in the grassland below Ivohiboro Forest, Madagascar.
Charcoal briquettes made with grass and waste brush burn in a small grill.
The biomass used to make charcoal briquettes can be any dried material, but grass and waste brush are likely the most abundant "feedstock" available in rural communities in southeastern Madagascar. We are connecting this project to our Sakoa Seed Oil project by encouraging communities to use the waste woody pits of Sakoa fruits when making charcoal briquettes.
Making briquettes is quite simple: charcoalized material (essentially biochar) is ground and mixed with water and a binding agent (e.g., cassava flour, rice starch, cattle dung). The mixture is fed into a tube and pressed with a rod, and the resulting briquettes are left to dry for one to two days.
These briquettes burn hotter and longer than typical timber-based charcoal, making briquettes more valuable for producers and consumers alike. What's more, the briquettes burn more cleanly, helping alleviate rampant respiratory illnesses in women and girls from cooking with wood and raw charcoal.
Devaluing deforestation while feeding communities
Dried biomass like grass, waste brush, and Sakoa fruit pits are charcoalized through the process of pyrolysis: decomposition of organic matter at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Pyrolysis can occur in steel barrels or simple holes in the ground. This material is essentially biochar.
Rural communities can sell these briquettes like they would with timber-based charcoal, generating income for people who would otherwise delimb or cut down valuable trees. Briquettes made with Sakoa fruit pits provide additional incentives to protect and restore forest.
The charcoalized material is ground and mixed with water and a binding agent like cassava flour or cattle dung. The mixture is then pressed into a briquette using a tube and rod, which is left to dry for one to two days.
Devaluing deforestation means more trees will be left to grow and spread, increasing rate of natural regeneration. The improvement of rural livelihoods will also alleviate pressure for other activities harmful to forest, like setting grass fires for cattle forage.
Pyrolyzing dried grass and waste brush using a conical hole in the ground. The fire is extinguished with water once the hole is filled with charcoalized material.
Making Briquettes, Visualized
Click through the pictures below to follow the process of turning dried grass and waste brush into valuable charcoal briquettes that reduce deforestation and improve livelihoods.
This example is made with a ground kiln, but the same process can be completed with a steel drum.
Increase value of abundant, otherwise unused biomass like dried grass and waste brush.
Disincentivize cutting down and delimbing trees for charcoal production.
Provide alternative source of income in rural communities.
Improve local livelihoods.
Lahy, one of thousands of community members we have hired, says she and her family were able to survive famine thanks to the income provided by restoration-based jobs.
An Ivohiboro forest ranger extracts on the first charcoal briquettes made from grass and waste brush after a training activity.
How To Help
Donations go a long way in Madagascar, so please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our efforts. Monthly donors over $10 and $35 will receive a 1- and 4-fl. oz. sample of peppercorns as a thank you gift! You can also visit our Wishlist to provide allocated funding for specific items we need, or you can purchase merchandise from our store.
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Our progress on the Charcoal Briquette Project is entirely due to the generous financial support from numerous individual donors. To everyone who has contributed to our efforts, thank you!