Innovative biochar-producing gasifier stoves improve livelihoods, landscapes


This blog was first published on the website of Landscape News.

Currently, almost 4.5 million people die each year from health problems caused by inhaling indoor smoke generated by burning solid fuel. Worldwide, 38 percent of the population – 2.7 billion people – cook with wood collected unsustainably from forest and farm landscapes.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the backbreaking process of gathering firewood by hand – often by women and girls – and carrying it home provides the main source of fuel for cooking and heating.

Although liquid fuels, solar energy and hydropower could offer possible alternatives, high costs, infrastructure shortcomings and local habits make sustainable use of wood fuel, including firewood and charcoal, a more viable option in the region.

As a result, researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Wangari Maathai Institute (WMI) in Nairobi, Royal Institute of Technology, Lund University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Center for International Forestry Research are trying to find healthier, more efficient energy conversion technologies that emit less pollution and simultaneously produce biochar (biomass charcoal) for soil amendment to improve plant growth and health.

“Cook stoves are critical — we need to develop innovations to meet cooking and heating needs that work within locally available infrastructure and which offer environmental and socioeconomic benefits,” said Mary Njenga, bioenergy research scientist at ICRAF and visiting lecturer at WMI.

“Not only is it strenuous work to gather wood, it detracts women from other pursuits such as agriculture or operating small businesses to generate income,” said Njenga. “Women spend about one working day per week in collecting firewood from forests. This implies that women are essentially living on a 20 percent pay cut as their productive days in a week are normally five as they spend Saturdays attending to domestic chores.”

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