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Techno-Economic Feasibility of Green Charcoal Production in Kenya

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Sustainable Access to Energy in the Global South


Many people in emerging markets use solid fuels such as charcoal for domestic cooking. This has alarming negative environmental and economic impacts. Efforts have been made to find ways of replacing wood charcoal with waste-derived briquettes also known as “green charcoal.” This chapter explores the technology, economics, and implementation of charcoal briquettes made from pyrolyzed organic waste, based on a case study in Kenya. Given the lack of formal and centralized waste management systems in emerging markets, we focus on a low-cost thermal treatment system for producing the briquettes. First, we present an economic analysis of the current domestic cooking fuel consumption pattern. The low-income households we surveyed spend a significant fraction (about 25 %) of their total income on charcoal, and the most important criterion by which they assess charcoal quality is its energy density. This is worth considering when developing alternative products. We then explore the low-cost processes enabling the conversion of agricultural residues into substitute charcoal. We find that the uptake of green charcoal production practices is possible at the community level, but depends critically on how well the product meets customer needs—and, hence, on the economic viability of the business proposition. At national and international scales, uptake tends to be enhanced by favorable guiding policies.

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  1. 1.

    We use the term “paraffin” synonymously with kerosene as a fuel.

  2. 2.

    The limited space in this chapter does not allow us to list the questions. But, we are happy to provide them upon request.


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We would like to thank Jacob Young for collecting essential data and conducting interviews; Yvonne Wangare for designing and testing the top-lit drum kiln in the context of Kenya; the Zulu Youth Group and the Carolina for Kibera staff for community interviews in Nairobi, Kenya; Ali Kamil for facilitating interviews with charcoal enterprises; staff from the MIT D-Lab as well as Prof. Wanjiru Gichuhi for survey feedback and research protocol approval; and MIT Public Service Center, MIT International Development Initiative, D-Lab Scale-Ups, MIT IDEAS/Global Challenge, Legatum Center, as well as IDEO for financial support.

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Correspondence to Kevin S. Kung .

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© 2015 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

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Kung, K.S., Rigu, S.W., Karau, S.K., Gachigi, K., McDonald, L. (2015). Techno-Economic Feasibility of Green Charcoal Production in Kenya. In: Hostettler, S., Gadgil, A., Hazboun, E. (eds) Sustainable Access to Energy in the Global South. Springer, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-20208-2

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-20209-9

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