More than 2 billion people use wood, charcoal, dung or agricultural residues as the primary fuel for their cooking and heating needs, leading to significant health, economic and environmental consequences. Burning wood or agricultural residues produces smoke with a variety of irritant pollutants, some of which are known carcinogens. More than 1.5 million deaths a year are caused by acute respiratory infections from breathing smoke from indoor cooking fires. Women and children are generally exposed to the greatest levels of pollutants and it is children who suffer the greatest health risk – respiratory infections are the leading cause of death of young children worldwide
In 2002, D-lab at MIT developed a radically different solution called “Fuel from the Fields” that addresses the problem of fuel scarcity with the economic needs of small-scale farmers in mind. The project offers farmers a way to turn their agricultural waste into charcoal, a cooking fuel alternative that is more affordable and healthier than wood-based fuels. While charcoalmaking technologies have been around for thousands of years and other charcoal initiatives exist, they are often based on a centralized production and distribution model that can require a capital investment of tens of thousands of dollars. This charcoal can be made locally and inexpensively and has positive health, environmental and economic benefits: it burns cleanly, reducing exposure to the smoke that causes respiratory infections; it uses agricultural waste materials, and therefore does not contribute to deforestation; and it transforms a waste stream into a high-value, incomegenerating product – in Haiti, a bag of charcoal sells for US$10. Charcoal from agricultural waste can also be paired with complementary technologies like fuel-efficient stoves to further reduce fuel consumption. By producing their own charcoal, farmers can not only save money that would have been spent on cooking fuel, but can sell excess charcoal in the market for an additional revenue stream.
Watch Amy Smith’s Ted Talk on the subject
Images and Pictures taken from D-Lab website. All rights reserved.