FUEL FROM THE FIELDS:
Worldwide, 2.4 billion people use wood, charcoal, other
plant material (biomass), and coal as their primary source of
cooking fuel. In developing countries, the burning of
biomass accounts for up to 80% of all household fuel use.
Widespread burning of unprocessed biomass has well-
characterized impacts on health and the environment.
Indoor air pollution, which is largely due to exposure to
smoke and particulate matter emitted by the combustion of
unprocessed biomass, is estimated to kill over 1.6 million
people each year (figure. 1); women and young children are
worst affected. Deforestation also causes soil erosion,
increasing vulnerability to flooding and causing lower crop
yields from farms.
Figure 1: Indoor air pollution
The Fuel from the Fields (FftF) team developed a method of from cooking with biomass is
producing charcoal from previously unused agricultural
waste products. Charcoal provides significant advantages
associated with pneumonia.
Photo credit: Fuel from the Fields.
over raw biomass fuels because the process of carbonisation
reduces the particulate emissions, and reduces the risk of developing respiratory infections.
Unlike Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or kerosene, charcoal does not require people to purchase
new stoves or change the way they cook.
Charcoal making is a traditional industry across the world – charcoal is an energy dense fuel that
can easily be transported from rural to urban environments. In Haiti, the charcoal industry
employs an estimated 150 000 people.
Making charcoal requires three conditions:
• A carbon-rich material (traditionally wood).
• Anaerobic conditions (i.e. it must burn without air present).
Traditionally, charcoal is made by cutting down a tree, setting fire to the trunk, and covering it
with soil. The tree carbonises (turns into charcoal) over 1-3 weeks. The environmental impact is
worsened because hardwood trees (those that grow most slowly) make the highest quality
charcoal. The Fuel from the Fields technology involves filling a metal kiln with agricultural waste
(the source of carbon.) This waste is ignited, and later sealed, to create anaerobic conditions.
After two hours, charcoal is formed.
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