Green Briq makes fuel briquettes from invasive plan species. Working first with hyacinth plants that choke off shipping and fishing in East Africa and elsewhere, they are creating a sustainable, lower smoke, cheaper alternative to wood fires and charcoal that produced locally.
May 11th, 2018 – Kisumu, Kenya
Author: Noah Kozminski
Having collected and dried hyacinth samples at Dunga Beach, Green Briq heads to Kibuye Market Waste Management CBO (KMWM) to talk compaction. The goal of the endeavor: Find an innovative way to incorporate the troublesome invasive species into a useful fuel source using local techniques.
The team arrives in sprawling Kibuye Market, a maze of stalls and shops, connecting dirt pathways turned tunnel-like by tarps slung overhead for shade. Cries of hawkers and the roar of traffic from the nearby highway fill the air. Greeted by Harison Otieno, KMWM’s director, the team is led to the headquarters of the organization. A few low buildings stand in a somewhat-secluded plot, where a group of safety-vest clad men are working. The land was given to the organization by the City of Kisumu, explains Otieno, introducing his team. The group cleans the market’s general waste and plant matter for disposal and repurposing into burnable briquettes for home use. Inspired by university research projects in the area, the operation was established in 2014, and is approved by Kenya’s Bureau of Standards.
The focus for Green Briq is the hand-operated compaction machine the workers are standing around. Two men mix coarse paste in a wheelbarrow nearby — Otieno explains their briquettes are made from a variety of components and binders; charcoal dust, clay soil, sawdust, molasses, and others; each with their own qualities. The thick paste, once of satisfactory composition and constitution, is put into a hopper at the top of the compactor, and a handle is hand-cranked to produce a cylindrical briquette. This then needs to be dried before it can be sold locally to heat cooking stoves.
It’s time to test an innovative new component — Green Briq discusses the viability of hyacinth as a component in briquettes, which Otieno and his workers agree shows promise. Mixing in the ground sample of hyacinth brought by the team, several sample briquettes are produced. A few days of drying, and the briquettes will be ready for testing. To evaluate the promise of the project, tests will compare amounts of energy produced by burning briquettes produced with existing techniques and those made with hyacinth.
After making the briquettes, Otieno shows off more of the compound. The waste management group, he says, can produce around a thousand briquettes in six hours, which are sold only to local individuals, not vendors. Otieno displays some samples from partnering organizations —briquettes and small pellets made from human waste, light-colored granular fertilizer made from urine — which the group cannot currently produce, but are looking into for the future. Currently, the operation produces a variety of fast- and slow-burning briquettes for domestic use, as well as animal feed from vegetative waste left by fruit and vegetable vendors in the market.
The Green Briq team, having prepared the next step in testing their project, is planning on returning to burn the hyacinth briquettes and evaluate how effective the invasive species is as a fuel source.
May 9th, 2018 – Kisumu, Kenya
Author: Noah Kozminski
In a lively first day of activities, the Green Briq team heads for the banks of Lake Victoria, hunting for information about the invasive aquatic flora hyacinth, aiding the team’s primary objective. “We turn invasive species into sustainable fuel sources. Here in Kisumu specifically, we’re taking water hyacinth and turning it into fuel briquettes,” explains team member Annaliese Long. With their research with HESE this summer, the team is aiming to take on several issues — invasive hyacinth in the lake and unavailability of sustainable biomass fuels — by using existing technology to create an innovative solution.
The team’s goal for the day: Talk to local fishermen and cooperatives to gain a better understanding of how hyacinth affects the area. The investigation begins at Dunga Beach, a major fishing port in Kisumu. Discussions with fishermen and ecotourism/conservation group Ecofinders Kenya offer insight into the inner workings of the trade: Cooperatives own the boats, and sell fish caught by locals. The impact of hyacinth is also detailed — when in bloom, the remarkably dense vegetation clogs the bay, restricting water travel and drastically altering the aquatic ecosystem. Hyacinth covers the surface of the lake, absorbing oxygen and depleting populations of highly sought-after Nile perch and tilapia, while providing a haven for less-valuable catfish and lungfish, which thrive in the low-oxygen environment.
Following their research on the beach, the Green Briq team takes a boat ride to see aquatic hyacinth up close and get a taste of local fishing culture. Out on the water, they witness the issues of hyacinth first hand, catch a glimpse of a languishing hippo, and are treated to a fisherman’s tale of an isolated village of cannibals living on the far side of the lake. Back on land, the team hears more about local uses of hyacinth, which is hand-twined into rope by local artisans, as well as being used in a variety of commodity goods.
The team also looks into the other part of their overall objective; the local use of biomass fuels. Due to extensive deforestation, Kenya has banned the production and distribution of charcoal. However, many locals continue to produce and use the fuel. The Green Briq team’s initial investigations offer mixed explanations regarding the legality and economics of this issue, but these findings will inform their future research goals.
With this array of new information and a host of great experiences, the team now prepares for the next step of their efforts: Producing a sample hyacinth briquette using locally sourced materials and tools.