This manual on Industrial. Technologies for Charcoal Making represents another step by FAO to help overcome fuel shortages in the developing world.
Energy is one of the most important commodities required to satisfy the physical needs of mankind. Over the years, limits in the availability, technological changes, locations of resources, prices and use of certain fuels have required the use of new sources of energy.
Furthermore, during the last years, the growing population, the continuing industrialization and economic growth of countries have led to an increasing demand of fossil fuels. The economic difficulties that most countries are facing, together with high oil prices, are bringing about a period of energy transition from an economy based primarily on hydrocarbons to one based increasingly on new renewable sources of energy. Although many technical solutions using new and renewable sources of energy have been tried during the last ten years, forest biomass, due to different technical, economical and social reasons, seems to be one of the most appropriate alternatives.
Sixty percent of all wood taken from the world's forests is believed to be burnt as fuel - either directly or by first converting it into charcoal. The proportion of fuelwood used to make charcoal can only be estimated but it is probable that around 400 million cubic metres are transformed into charcoal per year throughout the world.
In developing countries charcoal is mainly used as domestic fuel for cooking and heating but it is also an important industrial fuel. Large amounts are used in foundries and forges, in the extraction and refining of metals, especially iron, and in numerous other metallurgical industries as well as in cement factories and chemical applications. Also, in those countries with abundant forest resources the export of charcoal can be a profitable industry.
In most developing countries the traditional methods of charcoal making are the only technology known, but due to shortages and rising prices of raw materials in industrialized countries, new and improved technologies for charcoal production have been developed and taken into use during the last decades. Through technical achievements, the carbonisation of almost any type of forest, wood industry or agricultural residues became feasible and also higher energy yields were obtained by producing commercially valuable by-products. Progress was made in particular in carbonisation of small-sized biomass, in manufacturing charcoal briquettes and in the design of equipment for energy co-generation to produce mechanical, electrical or thermal energy, through the recovery of energy from pyrolysis gases.
The idea of this manual has been inspired by the Forest Industries Division of FAO with the purpose to inform and orient government agencies and managers of industries in developing countries concerned with improving the production and distribution of charcoal. The application of modern technology can make useful contributions in securing the supply of household or industrial fuels and in saving hard currency by substituting imported fossil fuels. The contacts with governmental planning authorities and private enterprises in developing countries show that the main factor obstructing the promotion and realisation of charcoal industries is the lack of knowledge of the existing charcoal technology. In many cases, assistance would also be needed in the preparation of a charcoal project.
This manual embodies the collective wisdom of charcoal makers of many countries and is offered in the hope that it will aid both to increase production of charcoal and, at the same time, to conserve forest resources by introducing more efficient methods of production.
The help of the consultants involved in the preparation of this manual is gratefully acknowledged, in particular that of Mr. Walter Emrich and Mr. Harry Booth who worked out the original ideas and to Mr. E. Beaumont who assisted in the final editing.