Tinder EcoFuels: avoiding deforestation and contributing to reforestation

 

An ongoing logging ban in Kenya in response to alarming rates of deforestation across the country has highlighted the adverse impact of traditional charcoal production. Kenya loses 10.3 million m³ of wood from its forests every year from unsustainable charcoal and wood fuel use, and household biomass fuel use contributes more than 22 million tonnes of CO2 eq each year. At Tinder EcoFuels, a combination of our carbonising method and selective biomass use (we only use an invasive tree species to produce charcoal) avoids deforestation and actively contributes to reforestation while producing a sustainable cooking fuel.


Kenya’s logging ban, which was introduced in February 2018, was a response to deforestation caused across the country from illegal logging, unsustainable charcoal production and human encroachment[1]. To put things into perspective, Kenya has lost 310 kha of tree cover between 2001 and 2017, equivalent to a 9.3% decrease since 2000 and and 33.0Mt of CO2 emissions[2].

Nairobi consumes more than 350,000 tonnes of charcoal per year[3]. This equates to almost 1000 tonnes per day and due to inefficient carbonising methods used in the traditional (and informal) charcoal industry, 10,000 tonnes of wood are cut down daily to produce the charcoal required. As charcoal consumption in Nairobi amounts to only 10% of total national consumption, the amount of wood required to supply charcoal nationally is enormous.  

 Deforestation as a result of traditional charcoal production

Deforestation as a result of traditional charcoal production

Avoiding deforestation and supporting reforestation is inherent within the Tinder EcoFuels business model. Charcoal is traditionally produced in Kenya using archaic earth mound kilns, which have a maximum efficiency of as little as 10%[4]. This means that the production of 1 tonne of charcoal requires 10 tonnes of wood. By contrast, our use of locally adapted, modern and purpose-built Brazilian Beehive Kilns results in an efficiency range of 20 to 25%, drastically reducing the amount of wood required by up to 50%, as well as reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. As such, our carbonising method makes a significant impact on avoiding deforestation. Whereas traditional charcoal production methods consume 0.297 hectares of wooded regions per tonne of charcoal produced, sustainable charcoal production methods require 0.099 hectares, resulting in a 66% reduction in land required.

It is not only through our carbonising methods that we contribute to forest conservation. Our exclusive and careful use of Prosopis Juliflora - an invasive tree species found across Kenya and beyond - as biomass allows heavily invaded areas to flourish once more. Prosopis Juliflora was introduced to Kenya in 1973 from Brazil to serve as a windbreaker, aid desertification and combat a wood fuel shortage[5]. It soon became apparent, however, that this ‘devil tree’ was more of a curse than a blessing: it has invaded large areas of Kenya (estimates suggest more than 1.2 million hectares have already been invaded with a growth rate of 5% per annum) to the detriment of the indigenous ecology. It takes over rural landscapes – including arable lands- and leaches the earth of nutrients. Its canopy takes over ground cover, making it hard for other plants to compete, even more so as result of its monoculture characteristics[6]. The species can withstand high temperatures, a shortage of water and saline soils and grows incredibly quickly. Its devastating impacts have been seen globally: it has colonised more than 800,000 hectares of arable land in northern Australia and infestations in New Mexico have reduced the carrying capacity of arable land by up to 75%. Complete eradication of Prosopis has proven near on impossible, and its spread in Kenya has led to legislation allowing for its commercial utilisation.

 

 Foreign foe: Prosopis Juliflora

Foreign foe: Prosopis Juliflora

By exclusively and carefully using Prosopis Juliflora as biomass to produce charcoal, Tinder EcoFuels allows forested regions and agricultural lands the opportunity to thrive once more. By curbing and halting its growth other species are given the opportunity to grow and contribute to reforestation as well as increasing the number of live carbon sinks. Our methodology allows other species traditionally used for charcoal to be ‘spared’ from harvesting. Prosopis is highly regenerative as the species coppices quickly once matured and cut down, as such there is no shortage of supply. Ultimately, a harmful ‘pest’ is turned into an on-demand resource, repurposing its value for positive impact,

 

As an earlier blog post pointed out, charcoal consumption continues to rise across sub-Saharan Africa and mass market alternatives remain either unaffordable or inaccessible. Even once alternative energy solutions become more available, charcoal is endemic across much of the continent and inherent within its culture, and consumers are unlikely to substitute its use for alternatives quickly. Charcoal does not require complex or expensive equipment to be made or used, and it is seen as part of the traditional way of life. Yet demand for charcoal has placed unsustainable demand on ecosystems and agricultural land throughout Africa, with demand expected to double or triple by 2050[7]. Through its use of efficient carbonisation methods and an invasive species as biomass, Tinder EcoFuels not only avoids deforestation but actively contributes to reforestation. Its business model represents a unique opportunity to turn a traditionally environmentally damaging industry into one which recovers ecosystem biodiversity in Kenya and beyond.


[1] africanews.com

[2] Globalforestwatch.org. The global average is a 8.4% decrease in tree cover since 2000.

[3] Based on 2016 national charcoal consumption figures. Nairobi accounts for 10% of national consumption. Mary Njenga et al. (2013), Charcoal Production and Strategies to Enhance its Sustiainability in Kenya

[4] Energypedia.info

[5] Standardmedia.co.ke

[6] Independent.co.uk

[7] UNEP