For the Fuel Briquette training day at the AmahaWe Uganda library we brought about 30 people down from the Rwenzori mountain villages to the library, each pair of 2 women representing one of the main cooperative groups from AWU making Briquettes at present.
They’ve all been making briquettes by hand or with a timber lever press for a couple of years now so they’re well experienced in the principles, but they hadn’t seen a process like this before.
First things first, breakfast was provided – chapatis, bananas and African Tea (about 50:50 milk & hot water with a tea bag waved across the top of the cup). It was going to be a long day and some of the women had been travelling from remote communities since 6am for a 9am start.
The morning started with a demonstration of the charcoal grinding machine.
One of the most time consuming tasks in making briquettes is grinding up the charcoal (either made directly from plant waste or ‘salvaged’ small pieces of charcoal from the street sellers). Doing this with a pestle and mortar is hard work, creates a lot of unhealthy dust, and is quite wasteful. This simple machine quickly and cleanly grinds it with a lever-operated paddle and sieves it into a heap below.
Bits of stone, plastic or litter are picked out of the char dust to prevent anything noxious being mixed into the briquettes.
In this particular recipe there will be no paper or anthill. The char dust will be bound together with a porridge made from cassava flour (itself ‘salvaged’ from the ground at a maize / cassava mill, being too gritty or lumpy to sell).
The cassava flour is sieved…
…then cooked up into a runny porridge on a rocket stove.
Once cooled a little, the porridge is mixed with the finest of the char dust…
…then, as the bigger granules are added, there is no substitute to doing this with your hands. These women are so keen to learn and, despite many of them wearing their Sunday-best, they just get stuck in.
Once mixed thoroughly (it can take up to 30 minutes) this char dust and cassava porridge recipe can be formed into briquettes by hand…
… or used in the timber lever presses that a number of our groups have been using throughout the southern Rwenzori Mountains…
…but what we’re here to show these women today is a new style of steel press for faster, less strenuous, higher quantity production.
The press bed and ‘briquette pockets’ are loaded with the mix…
…then the material is tamped down into the moulds to make sure it’s tightly packed.
The final part of the moulding involves slamming the very heavy steel lid onto the moulds three or four times. AWU executive William was particularly keen to get involved...
This slamming of the lid ensures that the material is highly compressed.
After that, the foot lever is operated and the bed of the mould is forced upward, pushing the completed briquettes out of the moulding tubes
Result… 24 perfectly moulded and compressed briquettes made in around 3-5 minutes (once the mix has been made up). All they have to do is dry for a couple of days and they’re ready to burn.
After a lunch of stewed goat, cassava, matoke, rice and g-nut sauce, the afternoon session was a chance for everyone to get stuck into making briquettes on the new press, mixing porridge, grinding char dust, etc.
Before everyone left for their long trips home (some had come 60km) the final part of the training day was a demonstration of how we’ve made oil-drum charcoal from farm / field waste such as maize cobs, coffee husks, banana leaves, sawdust, etc.
Now these groups really can make Fuel From the Fields
The great thing is that these training day attendees represented many of the 36 women’s groups between Kasese and Bwera on the Congo border. Each group consists of 20 women and they love to share their knowledge. These 30 representatives will show the remaining 600 women how to use this mix to make these improved briquettes. They in turn will show other women.
Typically, a team of 5-6 people will make around 200 briquettes a day using the wooden lever press. Using the steel multi-press (still learning and not yet up to full speed) during our training day alone a team of 4 people made over 3,500 briquettes. These will be distributed to various groups as samples, given to women’s groups and sold in the local community to raise some small funds for AWU projects.
All we have to do now is try to raise the 2.5 million Ugandan Shillings (£600 / $900) needed to get another machine and these teams will really be able to start to raise themselves out of poverty. As mentioned before, we’re focusing on giving them a hand up, not a hand-out.