Charcoal Fuel From Bagasse- Chardust Ltd. in Kenya

Excerpt from:

Village Power Newsletter, Issue #23
Thursday, June 6, 2002

Charcoal Fuel From Bagasse- Chardust Ltd. in Kenya

Chardust Ltd., the small Kenyan company that developed & commercialised the briquette made from charcoal vendor's waste, has just launched a joint venture with the Chemelil Sugar Company in Nyanza Province to produce charcoal briquettes from bagasse-fibrous sugar cane processing waste.

Chardust currently produces and sells 5 tonnes per day of its eco-friendly charcoal "Vendors' Waste Briquettes" (VWB) to a wide range of institutional and domestic customers including lodges, hotels and restaurants. New distributors in Mombasa and Nanyuki are developing VWB markets within their respective areas. The Chemelil project will build on this experience to establish a foothold in the west Kenya charcoal market by providing a direct substitute for wood charcoal- the vast majority of which is unsustainably and illegally harvested from the regions rapidly diminishing forests.

This first-of-its-kind 'CaneCoal' plant will convert waste crushed cane, known as bagasse, into affordable charcoal fuel briquettes. Chemelil produces up to 100 tonnes of surplus bagasse per day, accumulating in massive heaps before being hauled away to be burnt in fallow fields. This practice yields no significant nutrients back to the soil, creates huge amounts of air pollution and actually costs the sugar factory money. All four operating sugar factories in Kenya have a similar bagasse disposal problem.

Charcoal in the area around Chemelil, including Nandi Hills, Ahero and Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, already costs as much as KSh 400 per 40 kg bag (USD $5.00) Due to the rampant destruction of forests from which it is harvested, distances from source to market now often exceed 150 km and the charcoal arrives pulverized with up to 25% unusable chips and dust.

The charcoal-buying public is ready for an alternative, but it must be to a product that can be afforded. Chardust aims to get its CaneCoal product onto the market in the traditional 40kg sacks as well as pre-packaged retail sizes at a price 30% lower than regular lump charcoal. Sales of 5 tonnes per day are anticipated by early in 2003, displacing an equivalent amount of unsustainably harvested lumpwood charcoal. Between 8 to 10 kilogrammes of live wood is required to produce one kilo of traditionally kilned charcoal.

The Chemelil CaneCoal project is co-financed by the U.K's D.F.I.D. Business Partnership Programme and seeks to provide a model of corporate social responsibility, sound environmental management and quality energy provision to low income consumers. It incorporates a technical breakthrough by Chardust in the form of a particulate biomass downdraught carboniser - put simply, a system to turn raw material into charcoal powder. This powder is mixed with binders and turned into briquettes with locally-made briquetting machinery and a significant amount of labour. Some 20 employees will be employed at the 5-ton per day level of output.

Much attention will be given to the introductory marketing of CaneCoal. As with any new staple commodity, it's expected that there will be some resistance to change. With little institutional demand for charcoal in Western Kenya (game lodges, large-scale individual livestock farms etc.), a greater focus will be placed on penetrating the domestic market than is currently the case with VWB out of Nairobi. To this end, Chardust has already completed a preliminary market survey of the region with an aim to understanding the regional market dynamics and the specific consumer preferences and profiles for charcoal. With this information, it is hoped that a regionally focused marketing campaign designed to introduce CaneCoal to the local consumer can be developed that not only rides on cost-competitiveness but also a 'Green' theme which will involve some type of educational component.

Chardust would like to work with any organizations that are capable of educating the public or increasing awareness of the value of using substitutes to lump wood charcoal. Until now, there has been no eco-friendly substitute to wood charcoal that can be burnt in a domestic 'Jiko'... CaneCoal will be the first commercial Kenyan attempt to produce an acceptable and economically viable substitute for wood charcoal that does not rely on fossil fuels.

With increased use of charcoal derived from agri-waste, three avenues of Greenhouse Gas emission reductions should come into effect: 1) reduction in the domestic use of expensive fossil fuels (LPG & kerosene), 2) lower demand for wood charcoal, reducing carbon losses within forest and bushland, and 3) by converting biomass waste to charcoal fuel, less bagasse is burnt or left rot- which reduces combustion gasses and methane entering the atmosphere.

Once proven commercially viable, the Chemelil CaneCoal venture has huge replication potential in East Africa and beyond. Chardust is confident that this technology can be used within the coffee and sawmilling industries as well. By salvaging the massive quantities of agri-industrial by-product that goes to waste in East Africa and converting it to a substitute for traditional wood charcoal- whole forests can be spared through a direct reduction in the demand for fuel.

Elsen L. Karstad
Nairobi, Kenya



If you know someone who would like to receive this newsletter, please have them fill out the Village Power Newsletter registration form at

** Note: Some links direct you to Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files. To read PDF files, download Adobe Acrobat Reader at