Seizing the opportunity offered by the widespread availability of feedstock (agricultural bio-wastes), the simplicity of converting biomass into biochar through pyrolysis with Elsa’s stoves, the low level of economic investment required, the high demand for charcoal as cooking fuel and the increasing demand for smoke-free cooking stoves, the project will channel the production of biochar - around energy clusters - into a sustainable and eco-friendly business opportunity for local communities.

Challenge

Growth in demand for wood fuel, coupled with a lack of alternative resources, has contributed to an increase in tree felling to ensure adequate wood fuel supply to households. This has resulted in ecological decline (i.e. a decrease in forest area, increase in savannah, loss of biodiversity), soil erosion (by wind in dry season and run-off in wet season) and health side effects. A recent study in Ghana indicated that there is high consumption of wood (about 15 kg of wood per day per person) and that the highest wood fuel consumption (charcoal or wood fuel) was observed at the largest households, which may be attributed to the fact that wood fuel collection carries no financial cost to households. As a consequence, people do not value energy conservation. In fact, after cooking a meal the firewood is left burning until the next meal is cooked. As long as women and children’s labour is unpaid, this will continue to be considered a cheap energy source that does not require any efficiency. Unfortunately, this habit is seriously threatening the availability of fuel: it is estimated that in Togo, for instance, there will not be any wood available in 20 years’ time.

 Some available options to change the approach to fuel use need to be explored:

  1. Using other available biomass as feedstock.
  2. Improving cooking stoves to reduce the daily amount of charcoal or wood used per family.
  3. Improving feedstock characteristics (i.e. pellets).

    ELSA stove demonstration in Togo

  4. Studying, developing and applying sustainable forms of forest management, where it is possible to harvest forest without reducing forest area.

Focus

Biochar Plus improves the capacities of developing countries to absorb and use biochar technology, knowledge of which is readily available and promotes socio-economic development of families and communities. It also stimulates the development of specific biochar-related policies and incentive schemes, and builds the technical, entrepreneurial and scientific capacities of all stakeholders involved. The development of four energy clusters is expected to reduce anthropogenic pressure on forested areas and increase the soil fertility of cropland :

-         Producing and selling biochar stoves.

-         Producing and selling the fuel produced with locally available feedstock (pellets).

-         Collecting and distributing the biochar.

-         Receiving carbon credits and selling them in the international carbon markets.

Rationale

Biochar Plus is a follow-up on a previous ACP S&T project (‘BeBi - Agricultural and environmental benefits from biochar use in ACP Countries’) which introduced the production of biochar from agricultural residues and its use as a soil enhancer in five rural villages in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Togo. Biochar is a fine-grained substance, similar in appearance to charcoal, produced by the natural burning of bio wastes or in kiln during pyrolysis. It is also a highly porous, chemically stable, carbon-based soil additive that retains water, nutrients, and micro-organisms, enhancing soil productivity through increased crop yields and reduced chemical run-off from fertilizers.

BeBi designed an improved cooking stove using pyrolysis (ELSA stove): it can be tailored to different feedstock and adapted to produce the energy necessary for households. The added value of this stove, compared with others available in the market, is its accessibility and affordability for local communities: it is cheap and easy to build and use. ELSA is an open product that the communities can eventually modify and adapt to any need. This technology will be mainstreamed with Biochar Plus, which will capitalise on the previous experiences with the start-up of community-based energy clusters based on the production and use of biochar.

 

Method

The sustainable production of energy through the ELSA stove and the implementation of environmental-friendly soil management practices will be targeted at several stakeholders. The know-how to produce, distribute and use these stoves will be shared with entrepreneurs and SMEs, which can take up the technology and start businesses involved in stove manufacturing, fuel production and biochar distribution. Farms and landowners will be involved in gathering the agricultural residues and other available biomasses for fuel production and the application of biochar to soil to enhance its productivity: the collection of biomass remnants, such as crop residue, non-commercial wood, wood waste, manure, solid waste, non-food energy crops, and construction scraps will be promoted and planned. Communities, particularly women, will be encouraged to adopt the pyrolysis plants and the biochar ELSA burners for their households, achieving benefits in terms of energy efficiency and safety.

Scientific organisations will have opportunities to advance the scientific knowledge on biochar and to start networking in Africa with biochar-related international initiatives. Education systems can develop curricula and know-how on the ELSA burners and on the pyrolysis plants. Decision makers and local authorities will advance the policy framework and endorse biochar energy production as a friendly technology that provides multiple benefits in the fields of energy, health, agriculture, environment and socio-economic development. They can also promote the sustainable and improved energy access aspects of the technology.

The project is organized around two main pillars:

  • Scaling up the technology by developing capacities both for small-scale biochar plants (ELSA stove) and for large-scale biochar production plants. Both dimensions are tackled along with the development of the related energy clusters;
  • Ensuring the local ownership of the technology and the commitment of the stakeholders through a participatory approach.

Expected Results

  1. Institutional capacities to formulate, manage, monitor, evaluate and disseminate biochar-related activities reinforced.
  2. The development of energy clusters based on pyrolysis / biochar, providing an impetus for the growth and socio-economic development of local communities.
  3. The application of biochar to soil promoted, improving soil productivity for farmers and land owners.
  4. Energy access and efficiency ensured for local communities, achieving at the same time health and environmental benefits.
  5. Reduced impact on the local environment through the sustainable use of available biomass. This means support for sustainable forestry management and the exclusion of food or feed from fuel production, since only residues and biomass wastes can be used as biofuel.
  6. Enhanced participation of the African scientific and educational community in existing biochar-related networks.