Briquettes are a viable and low cost alternative to environmentally damaging fuels such as firewood, kerosene and charcoal. They are similar in appearance to regular charcoal but they are made out of charcoal waste, agricultural residues or sawdust, which are normally considered unusable waste.
The case for promoting a widespread use of briquettes is a strong one: the current use of charcoal and firewood is contributing to wide-scale deforestation in many developing countries. The cost of charcoal is also increasing.
GVEP works with micro businesses to scale up the briquette’s market and to increase awareness and the demand for this environmentally friendly and cost-effective product in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Along with local partners, we are looking at various ways of supporting the entrepreneurs who want to start, strengthen, or diversify into a briquette business.
An alternative source of fuel and a business opportunity
Three years ago Jude Kabanda began his business and community-based organisation, Friends of the Environment (FEO). Operating from Makindye, a suburb of Kampala in Uganda, his company produces briquettes for local people and businesses. Briquettes are a source of fuel made by solidifying biomass waste products, such as sawdust, coffee husks etc.
Previously his briquettes were handmade and making less than 100 Ugandan Shillings a week. But with the help of GVEP he was able to buy an efficient machine. This dramatically increased his production capacity with monthly sales of 210,000 Ugandan shillings (around £58).
He received a further 2 machines and as a result decided to expand his workforce – 6 local women who are learning how to make briquettes and are also involved in the business. He is also now passing on his knowledge and runs training sessions. Eventually he would like to supply local shops, supermarkets and home deliveries.
Briquettes provide valid alternative when wood and coal are scarce
Briquettes are proving to be a potential alternative to the standard use of environmentally damaging fuels such as firewood, kerosene and charcoal in the Rongo district of Kenya. The briquettes, similar in appearance to regular charcoal, are made from clay, water and the small pieces of charcoal which are normally considered unusable and would have previously been considered waste.
A small group of entrepreneurs in Rongo proved that there is a very healthy market for this alternative fuel, with locals queuing up to buy bags of the briquettes which could potentially sell for far less than the charcoal from which they are made. GVEP has supported various entrepreneurs there, who wanted to start, strengthen, or diversify into a briquette business.
The possibility for the wide spread use of briquettes is a strong one, the current use of charcoal and firewood is contributing to wide-scale deforestation in Kenya, and due to the transportation costs charcoal is generally expensive. Although the making of briquettes relies on the production of charcoal, it is still a cheap and ingenious use of a potential fuel that would otherwise go to waste. In the short term, briquettes made from charcoal dust provide an efficient use of the wasted resources and is competitive in price as well as usage.
These entrepreneurs are also looking into carbonising the ‘bagasse’ waste from sugar cane, a locally abundant resource that would cut out the importing of charcoal, making for cheaper, more environmentally friendly briquettes.
How cheap this fuel could become, and how environmentally friendly it has the potential to be depends on the development of the production process, its costs and methods, and whether with further research it can extend beyond household use. With the right level of support these small enterprises could, on a larger scale provide localised and economically viable alternatives to the current fuels available to rural communities in Kenya. See their photo story.