Wherever food needs to be cooked, fire is needed. For many Haitian people this means having to inhale the filthy fumes created by wooden charcoal – the primary cooking fuel here. As a result of this, there are many children who suffer from respiratory infections, as they are also forced to breathe in indoor cooking gases. In addition, there is the fact that 98% of Haiti is deforested. Using wood to light fires means destroying the precious little timber that remains.
Considerations when lighting fires was the central question for a team of engineers and students from MIT’s D-Lab. Their approach was seemingly simple: Why not use agricultural waste? The new kind of charcoal developed by the team is cleaner, more sustainable and made from dried bagasse. The primary waste product from sugarcane processing contains fibres, which can be burnt immediately. However, it is actually more efficient if the bagasse is burnt in a 55-gallon (208 L) oil-drum kiln where it carbonizes. Afterwards cassava root works as a binder to form briquettes. This new kind of charcoal has not only been tested successfully in Haiti but also in Brazil, Ghana and India.
Moreover, the MIT-team is exploring other agricultural waste products that can be used as cooking-fuel, for example, corncobs. And it’s not only household fires, which can be stoked. There is also a social entrepreneurship impact on the community, as the agricultural waste needs to be processed in on-site enterprises. Waste is not only waste – new and simple technologies give waste products a true function.
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