Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Which Is Better: Wood Or Charcoal?

By René Lambert Muhire

As Rwanda, like other countries of the continent face growing urban fuel wood needs, and with populations explosion resulting in high domestic energy demands, wood burning for charcoal making would be replaced by direct use of wood proved much economic, in order for the country to meet global energy needs and contribute to improved forest resources management. But to make it a reality, the country needs to foster environmental friendly wood cooking stoves’ initiatives already present to some local residents. The urban community therefore needs to opt for this profitable fuel choice.

Turning wood into charcoal is subjected to a loss of about 70% energy, according to prominent studies by FAO forestry department. Claiming that charcoal-making wastes a lot of energy, J.D. Keita, the FAO Regional Forestry Officer suggests that direct wood burning would be a good choice for countries in order to meet high domestic energy demands which remains a major forestry problem.

As to Rwanda, the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDRPS) targets aim at reducing fuel wood consumption from 94 to 50 per cent by the end of 2020. Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA) therefore encourages people to prefer saving energy through environmentally friendly wood cooking stoves in order to reduce charcoal consumption as well as minimizing deforestation.

“We are calling people to use improved firewood cooking stoves in this regard, for the best use of energy ordinary wasted when converting wood to charcoal,” Says Alphonse Mutabazi, REMA
climate change expert. Mutabazi illustrates that while burning wood; only part of the total energy of the fuel is effectively utilized depending on the cooking stove used. With the open three stone firewood stove for instance, only 8 percent of its potential energy is effectively used in cooking and it’s much better for more economical types of stoves.

The loss of energy begins as soon as burning starts and that energy which could be helpful in cooking is directly sent in the atmosphere. “Improved wood cooking stoves are built in a way that allows all energy to be accumulated and remain within. So, people need to use such stoves so as to save both 70% energy that would be lost if they used charcoals and more than 10% energy loss when using inefficient three stone fireplace that let energy goes out,” Mutabazi added.

Hence, some Rwandans found this business quite profitable. Isidore Nzeyimana has been investing in improved fire woods cooking stoves for households and communities since about three years ago.

“We used to rely on about two sacks of charcoals per month, with a cost estimated at Fourteen thousand Rwandan francs (14 000 Rfw), and now after two years and a half using woods with this kind of stoves, I only spend about 8 thousand Rwf per month. I have normally been spending less than 4 500Rwf for fire woods per week while I used to spend 14 000Rwf for charcoals the same period,” He asserts.

Jean Marie Vianney Kayonga has moreover been constructing environmental friendly briquette
cooking stoves since 1996. He currently manufactures and facilitates Rwandans to get the “SAVE80” cooking stove which is a device that requires 80 percent less firewood than what is needed for a traditional three stone fireplace.

With the charcoal-making process (carbonization), statistics indicate that a cubic metre of wood that might vary in weight from 215 kg to 600kg varies from 16 to 30 percent of the weight of the raw material. 1 kg of wood for example, yields 0.16 to 0.30 kg of charcoal and the rest is lost immediately when the burning for charcoal production starts. But despite this loss of energy through carbonization, the charcoal produced gives a higher yield in use than wood.

Thus, investing in economical types of wood cooking stoves is much vital. Nevertheless, availability, price, tradition and personal preference remains on the top of factors leading the urban residents’ choice of fuels, even as wood supplying to urban areas presents transport constraints with regard to charcoal.

For now, it is proven to be much protective to environment if people were sensitized and massively opt for such environmentally friendly wood cooking stoves, however still not affordable to many.