Clean cooking = Clean cookstoves + Clean fuel

West African families now have access to various clean cookstoves in urban, peri-urban and rural areas thanks to the on-going actions of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. One of the major challenges Agri & Forestry Investment (AFI) is working to address is the primary bio-fuel currently available in West Africa, lump charcoal produced through an ancestral supply chain: cutting down trees, carbonization in a traditional kiln, and distribution to the different local markets. Due to the lack of local engineering resources and investment funding, this supply chain has not improved since ancient times.

The AFI Company has identified three potential major innovations in the supply chain of clean bio-fuel in West-Africa:

  1. Using agriculture and forestry residues as raw materials,
  2. Introducing engineering for the carbonization process in order to reach a rapid and semi-continuous process, and
  3. Adding a briquetting module to the supply chain in order to facilitate the handling of the final product and to obtain a longer burning time in the family kitchen.

When sourcing the agricultural residue, AFI selected palm kernel shells because they have a high energy content. Pobe, Benin was a natural choice of location for AFI, as it is the homeland of palm oil trees in West Africa and hosts the West African Research Center for Palm Oil Trees.

With the strong belief that developing areas deserve access to technology-driven inputs, AFI is working in Benin to move from an outdated and time-consuming batch carbonization process to a rapid, semi-continuous process requiring a strong industrial engineering input. For that reason, AFI identified the Consumer Product Manufacturing Enterprise (CPM) at Michigan Technological University (MTU) as an engineering partner for the project in Pobe, building upon CPM-MTU’s earlier experience investigating carbonization methods in Panama.

AFI and CPM-MTU’s current cooperation focuses on two technical challenges:

  1. Optimization of hot air circulation in the carbonization chamber, and
  2. Optimization of handling operations which permit the semi-continuous process.

Using thermodynamic calculations, the CPM team is working to engineer a process that ensures a faster, fully pyrolyzed briquette product in larger quantities. A basket and cart design will be created in order to ensure continuous pyrolysis throughout the kiln. The basket will move into and out of the kiln via rollers attached to the bottom of the kiln and cart. This allows for the removal of the charcoal without the need to cool down the kiln after each batch. The CPM-MTU team is currently running a Kickstarter campaign (through May 4, 2015) in order to raise funds to finish prototyping a small-scale kiln and test the palm kernel shells for thermodynamic characteristics.

Using agriculture residues such as, but not limited to, palm kernel shells is very cost effective and can have an impact on reducing deforestation. But the corresponding manufacturing process requires a final briquetting phase. The costs of the necessary machinery are not immaterial and are generally beyond local funding capacities.

Fortunately, local Pobe stakeholders are contributing to the AFI project in two ways: a long-term lease with the municipality which secures the manufacturing, and family growers of palm trees have committed to deliver the palm kernel shells on long-term procurement agreements.

Agri & Forestry Investment has been a partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves since late 2012.  Various discussions during the Alliance’s 2013 Clean Cooking Forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia confirmed the feasibility of the Pobe, Benin project. Focusing on bio-fuel originating from agricultural natural residues, AFI relies on the Alliance’s promotion of clean cookstoves, as bio-fuel briquettes fuel the company's clean cooking technologies.

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