Cleaner Burning Charcoal as a Transition Step to Save Lives and Climate

From 2005 to 2015, China cut indoor air pollution in half. This was mostly from the adoption of cleaner burning charcoal.

This saved 400,000 lives per year from lower exposure to 2.5-micron air pollution. Fine-particle pollution causes premature death in people with lung or heart disease and increases sickness. China will continue to reduce exposure to fine particulate matter by 63 percent. This will prevent an additional 510,000 premature deaths.

Most of the household particulate pollution reduction seen in China was a result of a cookstove technology shift. Cleaner heating helped but heating is not used every day while people cook every day.

China has a goal is to increase the fraction of clean heating in northern China to 70 percent by 2021.

The people who have upgraded their cookstoves and heating appliances to cleaner-burning fuels have done so in areas where the switch was relatively easy to make. Rural and low-income urban areas will need government infrastructure to switch to cleaner cooking and cleaner heating. China will build natural-gas pipeline networks and an upgrade of terminal power grid.

Cleaner burning charcoal and stoves can reduce indoor air pollution by 90-95%.

Africa Shifting to Cleaner Charcoal Cooking

Charcoal is made from wood. Standard wood is burned in a low oxygen environment. The burning process removes water, methane, hydrogen, and tar from the wood. The result is small chunks of “char” that are almost pure carbon.

Charcoal consumption is a massive threat to the environment and human health. Deforestation is a huge problem across Africa. Areas in South Africa could fully exhaust their fuelwood reserves by 2020. Kenya loses 10.3 million tons of wood from its forests every year. Kenya has an 0.3% annual deforestation rate.

Diseases caused by smoke from open fires and stoves claim 4.3 million lives every year. This is more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

Wood and charcoal cooking wastes time. It takes 0.8–1.3 hours to cook and 0.3–0.4 hours to clean each day per urban households and 4+ hours for rural wood collectors.

Africa’s demand for charcoal is likely to double or triple by 2050, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Clean Briquette Companies

Lumbrick is a social enterprise which leverages innovative technology developed at McGill University to transform organic waste into clean cooking fuel.

Eco-Charcoal

Eco-Charcoal makes safe, clean, healthy briquettes from pruned branches which are dried, carbonized and mixed with a natural binder. This ensures a quick regrowth of the pruned trees and helps with climate change mitigation. These briquettes have low-carbon emissions. The company is selling in Nairobi its 5kg bags for 700 Kenyan shillings (~7$).

Burn Cookstove

Burn is a cookstove manufacturer that produces the market leading “Jikokoa” stove. Burn targets the upper segment of the cookstove market. The stoves are priced at $40–50, which is about ten times higher than a regular stove. It costs a lot less to operate a Burn stove. Its technology reduces fuel consumption and cooking time by almost 50%. Burn enables its customers to inhale less smoke.

Toyola Energy

Toyola Energy is a small stove business in Ghana. They have sold over 150,000 charcoal stoves that are cooking meals for around 1 million low-income people in the country.

It applies simple and readily available materials like scrap metal and clay to produce traditional charcoal stoves that use 30 percent less charcoal than ordinary stoves,

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