By CHRISTETER MACHA-CHIZHYUKA
Industrial advancement in the production of briquettes in a quest to find answers to end or reduce deforestation could just bring relief for Zambia’s besieged forests.
Companies such as Green Cycle Ltd and others have come up with technologies to produce briquettes which are 100% environmentally friendly, biodegradable and packaged in eco-friendly packaging.
This commitment dates back to 2007 in which Mr. Nasri Safieddine commercially pioneered briquettes as an alternative solid fuel to lumpwood charcoal, in a joint venture with the National Institute for Scientific Research-NISR.
This is all in an effort to counter alarmingly high deforestation and forest degradation which are major problems in Zambia.
According to the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries-UN-REDD, Zambia has approximately 50 million hectares of forest, with an estimated deforestation rate of 250,000 to 300,000 hectares per year.
Heavy dependency on charcoal has been compounded by erratic power supply through load shedding forcing most affluent communities to resort to charcoal as a source of energy.
Additionally, huge companies such as bakeries, boiler users and poultry farms as well as some farms using heat exchangers resort to charcoal.
Green Cycle Ltd is currently at pilot stage in broadening the use of the briquettes through restaurant owners and marketers in areas where heavy use of lumpwood charcoal from the Zambian forests are being sold such as City, town centre and Chawama markets.
This company has embarked on a programme to sensitise and encourage the use of briquettes for domestic and industrial applications to counter deforestation.
The briquettes branded Pyro Charcoal Briquettes have also been embraced by poultry farmers and companies like Zambeef, Hybrid, Ross Breeders, Unichic Investment Limited, Zamchick, Quantum Foods and Chipelu Poultry Farms among others.
Green Cycle Limited Consultant, Godfrey Mufaya revealed that his company embarked on a sensitisation programme for restaurant owners in the named markets and encouraged them to use briquettes.
Mr. Mufaya underscored the need for serious sensitisation on the protection of the environment through the introduction of products like Pyro briquettes.
Mr. Mufaya stated that so far the response is overwhelming, saying the company needs to be fully mechanized to meet the increasing demand.
Apart from the primary objective of saving the forest, briquettes have proved economical in that they burn longer.
“The Pyro briquettes gives more than double the kindling power, in a constant heat output for up to four hours, as opposed to regular charcoal which needs replenishing to maintain constant temperature, “boasted Mr. Mufaya.
Apart from the smaller briquettes the company is also beginning to commercialise the large honeycomb briquettes for use in large scale heating.
Green Cycle Limited which intends to venture into the usage of various solid fuel blends for industrial use has also introduced briquettes in leading supermarkets such as Pick and Pay, Shoprite, SANA and Melissa among others.
Charity Siame, a restaurant owner at the town centre market and Exildah Nguni at Chawama markets in Lusaka who were found cooking on braziers filled with briquettes said they both started using briquettes in 2013.
Both Mrs Siame and Mrs Nguni noted that briquettes burn clean, are smokeless and odourless adding that more companies need to venture into production of briquettes if Zambia is to spare its forest.
They commended Green Cycle Limited for sensitising restaurant owners on the need to use briquettes saying if everyone started using briquettes, trees would be saved.
Chipelu Farms breed about 40,000 chickens per cycle which ranges from 21 days in winter and 14 days in summer.
Mr Felix Lupindula, the Director explains that for each of these cycles the company uses 600 x 25 kilogram bags of charcoal in 21 days per cycle in winter while 400 x 25 kilogram bags of charcoal are used during summer in 14 days.
“I am an anti-tree cutting advocate myself and I feel bad using charcoal. This is why we did tryout briquettes, it is a perfect product,” Mr Lupindula noted.
Mr Lupindula who uses Pyro briquettes at his home said the briquettes from Green Cycle Limited burn longer and has a high dispersion of heat compared to charcoal.
“Besides being very efficient, briquettes have minimal carbon monoxide. We intend to go full time into using briquettes and decrease charcoal usage, which is painfully expensive,” he said.
Quantum Foods, another poultry farm has embraced the utilization of Pyro briquettes. Previously, the company used to use about 6 x 50 kilogramme bags of charcoal per night.
Poultry Supervisor in the Rearing section Moses Kalele explained that the company has resolved to use Pyro briquettes.
“Though we still punctuate the use of briquettes with charcoal we strongly feel briquettes are better. They do not produce carbon monoxide and this is good for chicks,” noted Mr Kalele.
Unichick Investment Limited, Farm Manager Ruth Della-Lucia says the smokeless nature of Pyro briquettes has proved to be conducive for the delicate birds.
“I would encourage other poultry farms to try using Pyro briquettes because the product has no carbon monoxide and is economical,” Ms Dela-Lucia explained.
The production of briquettes however comes with huge costs especially that heavy machines are needed to produce this product which if produced on a large scale could be an answer to the country’s distressing deforestation rate.
Mr. Mufaya explained that with the increased demand, the company needs support from government through VAT rebate.
The company would then be able to import bigger machines, increase production and then sell the products cheaply.
“With more usage of briquettes by big poultry companies and households, even electricity consumption will reduce, thereby lessening power overloads and load sheds, “he said.
Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Mwansa Kapeya lamented the high rate of forest loss in the country saying the introduction of briquettes gives a hope of relief.
Mr. Kapeya said the country needed to move into production of briquettes to reduce pressure on the forest saying government stands ready to support such activities.
“Its important to preserve our forest, if we take that route of producing briquettes, it will help the country. Government is studying the process keenly and we shall find a way of helping such initiatives,” Mr. Kapeya assured.
Mr Kapeya acknowledges that production of briquettes is a process that requires a lot of machinery.
Quoting recommendations based on Chidumayo (1997) in an article entitled ‘Management of Miombo Woodlands in Zambia’, the Food and Agriculture Organisation-FAO recommends that efforts in promoting usage of woodfuel such as chips, pellets and/or charcoal briquettes, sawdust and wood shavings from carpentry workshops, should be looked at seriously.
Current levels of energy demand can be satisfied and wherever possible enhanced, by ensuring sustainable regeneration of forests and by providing alternatives to woodfuel such as the Pyro briquettes produced by Green Cycle Limited.