By Lori Brown on May 4, 2009

African Banana Crop Waste Used for Fuel

Fried, raw, baked or even distilled into beer or wine, bananas are a staple in the East African country of Rwanda, where approximately two million tons of the fruit are grown annually. Though much of the fruit is used, the majority of the skins, leaves and stems are left behind as waste.

Scientists at the University of Nottingham are developing ways to use the banana waste to produce fuel. Using minimal tools and technology, PhD student Joel Chaney has developed a method of producing simple banana briquettes that can be burnt as fuel.

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Traveling farther each day to collect firewood is becoming a reality for many communities. Photo: Elroy Bos for iucn.org

“A big problem in the developing world is firewood,” Chaney tells Science Daily. “Huge areas of land are deforested every year, which leads to the land being eroded. People need fuel to cook and stay warm but they can’t afford the more expensive types, like gas.”

In additional to the resource depletion and erosion, collecting firewood can be a long process, with villagers spending hours traveling to and collecting forest wood for fuel.

To turn the banana waste into burnable briquettes, the banana skins and leaves are first mashed to a pulp and then mixed with sawdust or sun dried banana stems to create a moldable material. The pulp is compressed into a brick shape and baked in an oven, or sun dried for a few days if an oven is not available. Once dried, the bricks form an ideal fuel for cooking.

Similar to biochar, the technology of using waste to create a fuel source is a growing trend that could represent a solution to environmental challenges worldwide.

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Comments

  1. Jenny Featherstone says

    heard an article about this on the radio and I am interested in discussing this with a couple of HIV+ groups I work with in Kitwe Zambia. A couple of things I am not sure about though, sawdust is plentiful here, but what is the ratio to banana waste, and can we use anything else instead if they are not available? Maize stalks and husks for instance?
    The other thing is how well do the bricks keep; as presumably we wont be able to make them in the rainy season ( Nov – Mar) as we cant dry them out sufficiently.

  2. Shahira Fouad says

    I’m in one of the development countries in Africa,Egypt I’m really fascinated of Joel’s supervisor Dr Mike Clifford, Associate Professor, who worked on a number of sustainable materials and technologies including very interesting turn all sorts of waste materials into fuel specially the banana briquettes, yak wool, recycled banknotes, waste cardboard.

    I need to contact him in order to replicate such experience in Egypt and Sudan, Egypt having a lot of grants for enviromental I’m looking to dublicate and try this as big project in Egypt.

    Shahira Fouad
    Egypt

  3. Mark Gregory says

    i’m from the Philippines, and my father has a small banana farm here. after reading this article from the net… i am truly fascinated with the technology. i’m studying the process and would love to do it back here… and have the same impact to help the people that work and live near the farm…
    Mark Gregory
    Philippines

  4. Joel says

    Hi all,

    Just came across your comments- you can make briquettes out of any waste material. Jenny, maize stalks and husks are a possibility, but there is a lot more processing involved. Basically you have you chop them up a bit (this can be done mechanically) and then partly decompose them- for example by putting the chopped parts in a back bag and, making sure they are moist and turning them each day. Once they have naturally broken down to a pulp then you can press them into briquettes.

    Shahira, we would be very interested in hearing about your work in Egypt and if we could assist you in any way.

    Mark, have you had a go at making some briquettes on your banana fathers banana farm. Just let the skins decompose a bit until they are really black, mush them up even more by pounding, add another material, for example this could be partly decomposed chopped up stems or sawdust…get the mixture to a good consistency (just like baking a cake!) and then form balls of it with your hand and press the water out as much as you possibly can. Dry them out and then try to burn them! You’ll need to make a press to make denser ones, but this is a good way to get started!

  5. ralph romero says

    Everybody, please answer this:)

    I am just wondering if why did you mix sawdust to the decomposed banana?
    What is the purpose of the sawdust? and also the composition of it.
    Is there any process involve in the making?
    Could somebody please tell me how to do this.
    STEP BY STEP: please, I really need it, I am so amazed in fact I find it interesting. haha
    I’ll check in after a week, or a month, please help me.I would really appreciate your help. Thank you!

    iPb<3

  6. Jim Wheeler says

    I too am interested in a more detailed account of the process for using maize stalks and husks to produce fuel briquettes, if Joel would kindly tell us how to get access to any papers he’s published on this. For general ineterest, I have come across a simple press used in Malawi for this purpose – see websites http://www.echonet.org and http://www.panda.org. Hope that might help you, Jenny.

  7. Matthew says

    Hello. I was just wondering if you had that video in a downloadable format. Youtube doesn’t work out here in the Comoros. I’m an agricultural development worker out here. We’re doing rapid multiplication of bananas in a way that is at no cost to anyone (us or the farmers), but want to use the waste products wisely. Thanks!

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