How to Make Fuel Briquettes – Charcoal Dust – Carbonization and Pyrolysis of Biomass

Fuel Briquettes for Use in Your Own Home Cooking

Today, fuel prices are very high. The beauty of these high fuel prices is that you can now save money by making fuel briquettes for use in your own home cooking and in addition you can still make a reasonable income by selling excess briquettes to your neighborhood. Making fuel briquettes can be a sustainable business since most of the raw materials used are almost free. Your customers will be happy to buy cheap and clean fuel from you, and your neighborhood will be happy with you for helping keep their environment clean.

A Briquette is a Fuel for Stoves and Boilers

A briquette is a block of compressed coal dust, charcoal dust, sawdust, wood chips or biomass, and is used as a fuel in stoves and boilers. Smokeless briquettes are made from carbonized or pyrolysed materials. Briquettes made from materials that have not been carbonized are a bit smoky.

Pyrolysis is Thermo-Chemical Decomposition

Carbonization is the conversion of organic substances into carbon in the absence of oxygen as it is done in the making of lump charcoal. Pyrolysis is defined as thermo-chemical decomposition of organic material under pressure, starting anywhere from 200 °C and especially above 450 °C, in the absence of oxygen. Carbonization is actually extreme pyrolysis which leaves carbon as the residue.

Image: Process of Carbonization and Pyrolysis
Image: Process of Carbonization and Pyrolysis

Biomass as Renewable Energy Source

Biomass as a renewable energy source is defined as biological material from living, or recently living organisms. In many countries, people are growing crops and keeping animals. The waste from crops and animals are biomass material that can be used in making fuel briquettes. Agricultural waste materials such as rice husk, coffee husk, coir pith, jute sticks, bagasse (sugarcane waste), groundnut shells, sawdust, mustard stalks, cotton stalks, maize/corn, wheat husk, cattle waste, grass, leaves and cassava can all be used in making fuel briquettes.

Briquettes from Biomass without Carbonizations

It is possible to make briquettes from biomass without carbonizing the biomass. To do this, the green raw materials of the biomass will need to be partially decomposed (fermented) for one or two weeks. The material is then dried before crushing it into small pieces. Then, these pieces are mixed in water into soupy slurry and then the mixture is pressed in the briquetting machine (briquette press).

Charcoal Dust Briquettes

Fuel briquettes are also made from mixing charcoal dust with binder before introducing the mixture to the briquetting machine (briquette press). You do not need to carbonize charcoal dust as the lump charcoal the dust comes from has already been carbonized. In every bag of lump charcoal there are charcoal fines occurring from breakages of charcoal when handling. The average quantity of these charcoal fines ranges from 10% to 20% of all the lump charcoal that was produced. In many countries, all these fines go into waste as they are too small to be used in charcoal stoves. These charcoal fines already contain a lot of charcoal dust and the bigger ones can be pulverised further to make fine dust. These charcoal fines can be obtained for almost free of charge from charcoal vendors.

A Messy and Dirty Job

Carbonizing biomass can be messy and dirty because of the smoke emitted during the charring of the materials and charcoal dust. You must be mentally prepared that this is what you want to do. In that case, you need get yourself protective work garments usually worn over ordinary clothes, dust masks and hand gloves. These are the steps you need follow in order to carbonize biomass on a small scale:

A drum for Carbonizing biomass
A drum for Carbonizing biomass

1. Find A Metal Drum

You will need to get yourself a 190-litres metal drum like the one shown in the photograph to the right. Once you have the drum make one wide opening at the top of the drum for loading the dry biomass material. Make a metal plate as a cover for that opening of the drum. At the bottom of the drum, make several holes using a large nail and these holes should be evenly spaced.

Carbonization of Biomass - Loading the Dry Biomass Material
Carbonization of Biomass - Loading the Dry Biomass Material

2. Loading the Dry Biomass Material

Let the drum stand on three or four stones such that the drums should be easy to remove when the drum get hot. Load the dry biomass material into the drum through the opening at the top. Under the drum and through the four stones the drum stands on, lit a fire using some papers or very dry leaves.

Loading the Dry Biomass Material in the drum
Loading the Dry Biomass Material in the drum

3. Oxygen to Support Combustion

The fire will soon get into the biomass inside the drum. Air (oxygen) will pass through the holes at the bottom of the drum to support combustion of biomass inside the drum. The biomass will produce a lot of dark smoke. Let it burn for about 10 to 15 minutes and soon the smoke will become less and cleaner.

Carbonization of biomass - biomass will produce a lot of dark smoke
Carbonization of biomass - biomass will produce a lot of dark smoke

4. Closing All the Openings of the Drum:

After 10 - 15 minutes, the smoke will become lesser and cleaner. This is the time to close the opening at the top of the drum as well as the holes at the bottom of the drum. Remove the three-four stones under the drum so that the drum rest on the ground. Cover the sides of the drum touching the ground by soil. At the same time, cover the top opening by the metal cover and also seal it tightly using some soil. Leave the drum this way for the burning biomass to burn (decompose) in absence of air. In about 4 hours, but depending on the material of biomass, the burnt biomass will have cooled off for you to open it.

Carbonization of biomass - Closing All the Openings of the Drum
Carbonization of biomass - Closing All the Openings of the Drum

5. Crushing Charcoal into Dust

And finally you open your drum and you have carbonized biomass. You will need to crush it into dust before making the charcoal briquettes. You may want to use a charcoal crushing machine. Use it if you have it. But believe me, the easiest way to crush charcoal, and crude as it may sound, is to put it in a bag and to hit it with a heavy metal bar until it becomes dust. The stand of a farm jack can be good in this. Use it if you have it. And talking about farm jack, it has many uses in making charcoal briquettes as we shall see explained in another article on How to Make Briquettes – Charcoal Briquettes, Wood Pellets, Fuel Briquettes and Briquetting machines.

Carbon Credits

In conclusion, we can say that Carbonization and Pyrolysis of Biomass can yield sufficient charcoal dust that just need be mixed with a binder and run it in a briquette press, and then dried in the sun to make charcoal briquettes. In future, charcoal briquettes may replace lump charcoal made from trees and firewood. Lump charcoal and firewood are natural and trying to compare lump charcoal and briquettes is wrong. The idea is to have people to stop using wood charcoal in favor of agricultural waste briquettes. By training the people, especially people in developing countries, on how to convert their agricultural waste into charcoal briquettes; we shall have moved an additional step towards the reduction of deforestation that is becoming very common in many countries. The beauty of briquetting agricultural waste into fuel is that if structured under the supervision of carbon credit consultant, it can earn people additional income from compensation from carbon credits. The market for carbon credits is poised to turn out as the most lucrative market in the future.

The next article is about How to Make Briquettes – Charcoal Briquettes - Charcoal Briquette Ingredients and Composition.

If you would like to learn How to Make a Simple Briquette Press, you can check it here.

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Comments 3 comments

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

A lot of work... Interesting and flag up!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

A fantastic and helpful article. Thank you for sharing. It certainly saves a lot using waste material.


mohamad 2 weeks ago

Hello, my charcoal briquettes are producing a lot of ashes, comparing with Indonesia product, this makes a problem with my customers,

how can i keep the ashes adhesion together and do not drop out.

i m using charcoal made of Nigeria and Oaks and sometime from egypt.

thank you

email: mikekass@hotmail.com

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