2. East Africa: Handmade banana briquettes could replace firewood (BBC News)

| May 18, 2009

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For every banana prepared as a meal or enjoyed as a snack, a lot of waste is produced. Banana peels pile up in the trash heap. Not to mention the banana stems left standing in the field. But people are learning that banana waste isn’t waste at all. With a little effort, it can be turned into fuel.
In the banana-growing countries of east Africa, heaps of banana peels have triggered innovation. The town of Lungujja is just outside of Kampala, Uganda. Ten years ago, a women’s group from Lungujja made a discovery. They mixed chopped banana peels, charcoal dust, and fine sand to make charcoal briquettes.
Today, banana briquettes are gaining international attention, thanks to research at Britain’s Nottingham University. Joel Chaney is a PhD student at Nottingham. His studies took him to Rwanda where he saw the abundance of banana waste. He also witnessed the daily efforts of women to collect firewood.

Back in the university laboratory, Mr. Chaney developed a way to make briquettes by using every kind of banana waste. He makes briquettes from banana stems, leaves, and peels, and nothing else.

He explains that banana briquettes can be made without any mechanical equipment. First, you mash up a pile of rotting skins and leaves. This makes a sticky pulp. Next, you mix the pulp with bits of dried banana stem.

There are two ways of turning this mixture into a briquette. You can form it into a ball with your hands. Or, you can use a press to squeeze the materials together.

After the mixture is pressed into briquettes, leave them outside in the sun for two weeks. When the briquettes are dry, they are ready to be used. They should ignite easily and give off a steady heat.

Mr. Chaney hopes that banana briquettes will replace firewood in more African homes. This would lighten the load for women who traditionally walk long distances to gather firewood.

The more banana briquettes are used as an alternative to firewood, the more forests are saved. When people heat their stoves with banana briquettes, they don’t have to turn to the forest for fuel.