Getty Images

Make way for sustainable charcoal!

Posted on 08 July 2016.

Based in Phnom Penh, SCC – a social enterprise - has developed a sustainable and efficient alternative to charcoal: charcoal briquettes, made from organic waste.

In Phnom Penh, charcoal briquettes could help prevent 1,200 tons of timber being taken from Cambodian forests every day.

Hot soup, delicious fish amok with rice... a typical Cambodian meal prepared in a small clay oven, placed on the ground, and fuelled by charcoal. In Cambodia, 80% of households use charcoal for cooking. In the completely unregulated informal sector charcoal production is responsible for some of the country's massive deforestation – in particular in the province of Phnom Penh, where demand is growing. How then can the energy needs of the Cambodian population be met and rural families who depend on this activity make a living, and at the same time how can the adverse effects on the environment be avoided?

By reinventing charcoal!

Introduced by the French NGO GERES (Groupe Énergies Renouvelables, Environnement et Solidarités) in 2007 as part of its sustainable charcoal project, the company Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise (SGFE) has developed a sustainable alternative to the traditional charcoal produced from wood; briquettes made only with recycled organic matter. Based in Phnom Penh, SCC collects a regular supply of canvas sacks filled with coconut shells and other organic waste. After being cleaned, the waste is carbonized - converted into charcoal under the effect of heat - ground and shaped into hexagonal briquettes, which are then dried to reduce the humidity. In order to minimize greenhouse gas emissions energy efficiency is guaranteed at every stage of the process. For example, the heat generated in the furnace during the carbonization process is reused to dry the briquettes.

The result is a more efficient fuel than traditional charcoal (according to SCC, 1 kg of charcoal briquettes has the same calorific value as 1.1 kg of charcoal), burns longer and produces less smoke and sparks. Legal, sustainable charcoal with numerous benefits for the environment. Given that it takes 6 kg of wood to produce 1 kg of charcoal and more than 200 tons of charcoal are transported to Phnom Penh every day, it’s easy to calculate the benefits provided by charcoal briquettes: a daily saving of 1200 tonnes of timber from Cambodian forests! Whether during manufacture or when used by the final consumer, SCC charcoal produces less pollutants. And finally, by diverting some of the organic waste from local landfills, the company helps to improve waste management and reduce the methane emissions produced by the decomposition of organic matter.

The environmental aspects also come along with social aspects. The SGFE production centre in Phnom Penh employs workers from the "For a Child's Smile" program run by GERES, which offers employment to vulnerable people so their children can go to school.