Biomass briquette appeal

The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
Executive Summary
The Glacier Trust is working in partnership with Eco Himal Nepal to produce a replicable programme
to reduce the dependence of Nepali subsistence hill-farming communities on forest timber as a fuel
source. It is intended to achieve this by introducing a forest development and conservation
programme in conjunction with an inexpensive, carbon neutral, alternative energy sources. The project
will be initiated during 2009 in the Lower Solu Khumbu district, focussing upon Lokhim Village
Development Committee (VDC) and extended to the neighbouring VDCs of Pawai, Jubu & Bagor,
before being replicated on a wider scale.
The problems:
(i) The causes of slope failure in Nepal’s mountainous and dynamic hill farming regions have been
debated since the early 1970s. However it is now becoming clearer that the IPCC predicted climate
change scenarios for part of this region (longer periods of drought and fewer, but heavier, rainfall
events) is rapidly becoming, or has already become, the reality. Soil, dried out after a protracted
drought, becomes friable and has the propensity for mass slope failure when inundated by increasingly
intense monsoons. Failures of terraced slopes are now being observed annually, often by the end of the
second month of the three month monsoon period. There are no indications that this situation will
stabilise. Instead, with predicted further increases in temperature, it is likely to become more severe.
(ii) Almost all rural household fuel requirements are met by firewood, most of which is derived from
forests and used for cooking. Increased population and tourism are among the impacts placing heavier
demands on forest timber, particularly in the higher forests which may regenerate slowly because of
their altitude. These forests have vital roles in biodiversity, climate amelioration and as carbon sinks.
Their importance in preventing the landsliding of terraced slopes cannot be overstated.
(iii) Traditional cooking takes place on an open hearth (without chimney). This requires the use of
more wood than stoves. Ambient household smoke causes respiratory problems, particularly for
women and children, whose time is more closely associated with the hearth. Results include
premature death, eye infections and child safety hazards.
(i) Conservation of high forest and associated ground cover is seen as increasingly important in
maintaining slope stability for the future. Decisions will have to be made by the local community and
forest user groups as to whether additional high marginal farmland should be brought under forestation
(in order to protect the slopes from heavier rainfall) and also whether forest should be introduced at
the expense of some high summer grazing land. A forestry conservation and development programme
is intended to improve slope stability and promote education in sustainable exploitation of this
(ii) Contour planting with bamboo has the potential to reduce the propensity for some slope areas to
(iii) Demands for fuel wood may be reduced by improved burning efficiency. This includes the
introduction of ventilated stoves and smoke hoods. As part of the programme, The Glacier Trust is
supporting a programme to introduce a proven alternative fuel known as the biomass briquette. The
briquette is easily formed from biomass material (agricultural and forest residue) into a solid
combustible charcoal composite by simple, cheap technology. It is burnt in a cylindrical clay oven
made from local material. It will be introduced by Eco Himal’s trained field staff as part of a training
programme involving local Community Development Committees.
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
(i) Forest:
-Improved conservation by regeneration and reduction of timber depletion for firewood.
-The reduction of alien invasive plants such as banmara (which can prevent regeneration), for charcoal
briquette production.
-In some areas, the forest floor can be then used for other herb cash crops.
(ii) Health:
-Greatly improved health by elimination of ambient household smoke.
(iii) Carbon neutral heat source
(iv) Socio-economic:
-Briquettes can be made and sold by women’s groups, and those without any resources. They can
provide income.
-They are cheaper (Gigajoules / Rupee) than any other fuel including timber.
-There need be no caste considerations.
(v) Education:
-The longer terms concept of climate change is little understood by these farming communities. An
education programme may help decisions over crops and planning. Understanding forest
management, biodiversity, health, and financial management are all integral to this programme.
Sustainability & Assessment: The introduction of a new technology in any developing country is no
guarantee that it will be adopted long term. It is essential to embed a sustained educational and
capacity building programme into the project. An 18 month monitoring period is key both to its
successful long term adaptation and to ensure the transfer of learnt skills to other communities and will
be monitored by a MSc postgraduate student.
The problems
Himalayan climate change and its consequences
Deforestation and slope stability
Health problems relating to firewood
Proposed solutions
Local aspects of slope stability
Fuel use
The biomass briquette
Manufacture and use of briquettes
Transferring the briquette technology
Stages in introducing the various technologies
Anticipated problems and their solutions
Market linkages
Sustainability of inputs
Benefits & beneficiaries
Qualification to act
Sources and further reading
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
1 Introduction: The Glacier Trust’s involvement and partnership
The Glacier Trust was founded in 2008 in order to support a range of approaches for mitigating
dramatic effects of climate change upon communities living at high altitudes. It does this by working
in partnership with NGOs with strong grassroots connections, providing them with the scientific
and/or financial capital by which they can develop holistic adaptation strategies in this dynamic
environment. The Trust sets a high value on supporting carefully analysed pilot projects that have the
potential to be replicated. Nepali rural communities frequently demonstrate their concerns for the
wider community by introducing and teaching neighbouring communities new technologies.
In the case of this project, The Glacier Trust is partnering Eco Himal Nepal by providing funding and
critical analysis of this project, which has important implications for conservation and human health. It
is intended that the benefits of this project will become widely available throughout rural Nepal.
Eco Himal aims to introduce the project in a cost effective and locally viable manner. The Lower Solu
Khumbu district has been selected, focussing upon the Lokhim Village Development Committee
(VDC) area, before extending it to Pawai, Jubu & Bagor VDCs. By the end of the project,
approximately 100 people will be trained directly with indirect benefit to at least 14,000 people in the
area (4 VDCs x 3500 population on average). These VDC areas are relatively remote, just a couple of
days walk from the nearest transport links.
As part of its capacity building programme, The Glacier Trust provides scholarship funding
for the fieldwork of a Nepali PhD or MSc postgraduate student to study an aspect of the
projects it supports. This has two purposes: First, to enable educated local graduates to devise
adaptation strategies in response to climate change issues. This will be an important future
contribution to the effectiveness of Government and Non Government Organisations.
Secondly the student’s work is used as a critical assessment tool for the project. Critical
assessment is vital to successful replication of any project to other areas.
2 The problems:
2.1 Himalayan climate change and its consequences:
The impact of rapid climate change is most severe upon the poorest and most marginal communities.
For subsistence communities in the Himalayas, the impact is especially serious. Atmospheric warming
is widely reported as increasing two to three times faster at altitude (above about 2000m) than at sea
level. High mountain communities are therefore among the worst affected. A report to be published
by Practical Action in Nepal will suggest that analysis of the Nepali Department of Hydrology and
Meteorology data shows that the mean annual temperature in Nepal increased by a 1.3°C in the 30
years up to 2005. The consequences vary across Nepal. In some areas there is increasing drought. In
other areas rainfall is less frequent but heavier. In the area covered by this project, the latter scenario
Fluctuation in the altitude of the snow line means that melt water is no longer a reliable resource. Both
pre- and post-monsoon ‘drizzle’, important to the crop development cycle, is increasingly replaced by
prolonged drought. In the monsoon, there appear to be fewer rainfall events, but the total rainfall has
increased. This can cause crop failure. Worse, it has important implications for soil stability. If the
soil is allowed to dry out, cracking and loss of cohesion will occur. When the monsoon arrives the soil
is unable to withstand the erosional forces placed upon it by heavier rainfall. Slope erosion can destroy
terraced hillsides, bringing ruin to the subsistence farmers.
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
2.2 Deforestation and Slope stability:
Increasing temperatures, winter droughts and heavier monsoon rainfall will ensure that the high forests
will become determining factors for future slope stability.
However these forests are coming under increasing pressure for firewood as a result both of
population increase and, in some areas, tourism. According to Practical Action in Nepal1, 85% of
Nepal’s energy demand is still met by traditional sources. In rural areas the largest share (90%) of the
total energy need is covered by firewood. At present, hill farmers have no choice as to what they can
use as a fuel resource. Living several days walk from the nearest roadhead, the transport of other fuels,
such as bottled gas is problematic and can be arduous. Firewood is therefore, almost invariably, their
only fuel resource and where the forests are depleted, the price is often paid in terms of slope stability.
But there are other consequences.
2.3 Health problems relating to firewood:
Most farmsteads have open hearths, without chimneys which allow the smoke to pervade the house
before finding an exit through the rafters or windows. The open fires can put children at risk, and
ambient smoke causes eye infections and, more seriously, respiratory problems which can be
fatal. According to a WHO report form 20022, there are 7500 deaths annually from solid fuel use
(including non-timber) and over 200,000 Disability-Adjusted Life Years (which combines the ‘years
of life lost due to disability with the years of life lost to [premature] death’. Anybody who has spent
even a short time living in Nepali mountain communities would have good reason consider this a
dramatic under estimate3.
Besides being a health hazard, these open pit fires consume more wood for cooking than stoves.
3. Proposed solutions:
3.1 Forest:
It is evident that in the most of the area in question, forest user groups are managing the forests well.
However the replanting of a lower crest slope above Lokhim with pine after a fire 20 years ago has
reduced the variety of forest-floor species to a sparse rhododendron distribution. When the pine is
harvested, it can be replaced with a wider variety of species. Vigorous forest regeneration was
observed by a wider number of species where the canopy had been opened.
In view of present and predicted climate change scenarios, the Forest User Groups should identify
areas where further reforestation or ground cover could be considered in order to maintain slope
stability. These areas might include existing forest clearings, high marginal terraced land (at present
out of use) and some high pasture, where erosional features are already visible. Due value will have to
be given to the opinions of those using the pastures for summer grazing.
In some down slope areas forest regeneration has been prevented by invasive groundcover e.g.
Banmara, which can be used for biomass as described under 3.3.2 below.
Forests can generate income for the community from both timber and non timber products (e.g.
cardamom, a plant that will survive several years). Part of the budget for this project is given over to
the establishment of both timber forest and non timber forest nurseries.
Shree Raj Shakya 2007 Report on Design Improvement Study of Smoke Hoods promoted by Practical Action
Nepal, Practical Action /Nepal, citing Central Bureau of Statistics 2003 Population Monograph of Nepal, I & II.
World Health Organisation 2002 Indoor Air Pollution : National Burden of Disease Estimates, WHO ref:
WHO/SDE/PHE/07.01rev, , accessed July 2008, 1.
This is corroborated in Shakaya 2007, op cit.
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
3.2 Local aspects of slope stability:
Landslides are now an annual feature below the village of Lokhim and may in time cut further upslope
into the village (depending upon the underlying geology). One of these landslides had been brought to
a halt because large bamboo plants had acted effectively as a dewatering device. Bamboo can be
unpopular with farmers because of the demands it makes of the soil. However a small piece of bamboo
contour planting some way above the avalanche zone had protected a section of slope from avalanche
both above and below the planting.
The land devastated by landslide is now of no use to the farming community. It is advocated that it
should be used as an experiment for contour planting to determine what contour intervals are likely to
be most effective to bring this land back into use. Lesson learnt can be transferred to other areas of the
catchment. Excess bamboo might be broken up while green, allowed to dry, and used in an experiment
for biomass (see 3.3.2 below).
3.3 Fuel use:
Education in cooking with various types of stoves, whether locally made from clay or metal stoves
brought up to the village in sections and assembled by an expert, is part of this programme. Efficient
burning of timber for cooking will reduce demands upon the forest. However since these stoves have
to be correctly ventilated at the time of their installation, there should be a substantial reduction in
household smoke, bringing substantial health benefits.
3.3.1 The biomass briquette:
Part of the stove cooking programme involves the introduction of the biomass briquette.
This charcoal briquette (also called "Bee-hive briquette) is proving popular in developing countries. In
a mountain environment, easy access to fuel is paramount. This alternative fuel can be made locally,
which is vital if people’s dependency upon forests for fuel is to be reduced. The briquette is composed
by compressing clay with ground charcoal made from agricultural and forest residues (including
invasive species) to produce a compact solid. These can be burnt in cylindrical stoves either made
entirely of local material or of a more sophisticated design and material. The technology is both simple
and cheap. It therefore forms an alternative source of energy for the people living in rural Nepal with
very low income.
The technology has been refined by Nepal’s Centre for Rural Technology (CRT), which has also
trained the Eco Himal staff. Eco Himal will transfer this technology to local communities by working
partnerships with Community Development Committees (CDCs) and VDCs. Eco Himal has the
respect of many such committees as a result of their proven commitment to Nepal’s welfare. (See 5
This briquette project is part of a wider strategy that is gradually being introduced in Nepal through
agencies such as CRT, The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD),
WWF, the Netherlands Development agency (SNV) the UNDP/GEF Small Grants Programme and
others. For example, villages in Bara, Ilam Dhanusha and Sarlahi districts in the mid hills are now
using this technology.
It has advantages over firewood, both in terms of the total cooking time and in terms of the weight of
fuel consumed. One trial conducted by CRT and Eco Himal demonstrated that to cook two equal
quantities of rice the briquette required only 64 minutes of cooking time and 1.54 kg weight of
briquette, whereas with firewood it took 85 minutes of cooking time and almost twice that weight in
wood. The time required to cook each individual item varies with the amount of fuel used. However a
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
general observation is that, using briquettes, the cooking time for rice is always less than when using
This is, of course, not the only alternative fuel. Alternative energy sources and technologies include
biogas, micro hydro, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), improved cooking stoves, solar/wind
technologies, and other forms of briquette. However an analysis of the alternatives has shown that
most of the other technologies/energy sources are expensive by comparison, require additional
investment and subsidies and sometimes need to be imported from abroad. The attractions of the
biomass briquette include the facts that the manufacturing equipment can be made in Nepal and that
the briquettes can be made almost anywhere at low cost. The relative cost advantages are clear from
the following table:
Table 1: Relative cost efficiency of fuel per energy unit
No Type of
GJ/unit GJ/Rs Efficiency
1 kg
0.0167 0.0038 17
1 kWh
0.0036 0.0009 76
1 kg
0.0452 0.0021 70
1 litre
0.0365 0.0041 48
1 kg
0.0223 0.0065 37
Source: 4
3.3.2 Manufacture and use of briquettes:
The equipment needed for this project includes: Charring Drum (chimney) to burn loose biomass
materials to produce charcoal. The charcoal is ground up using a grinding machine (electrical or
manual) to make it into powder. This is mixed with 30% clay or mud to make a dough. The dough is
pressed using Briquetting die (or lack) to produce the finished product which is dried in sunlight. The
equipment is all made out of iron.
The stoves/cooking hobs are made with locally available clay and iron rods. However, ready-made
fully cast (pawan mukhi) iron ovens are also available in the market. These are expensive compared to
locally made examples.
The manufacturing process includes:
-Gathering biomass material
-Reducing the material to charcoal (pyrolysis)
-Grinding and admixture of selected clay
-Compression, drying and storing
3.3.3 Transferring the briquette technology:
Eco Himal is initiating the programme with help and training from Nepal’s CRT. Biomass briquette
technology is not yet widely known or used in Nepal because of poverty and lack of information. To
overcome this problem Eco Himal has conducted a "Training of Trainers (ToT)" programme for all its
field staff together with selected user groups.
Cited in Hedon 1998 Boiling Point, 41, from ‘Water and Energy Commission Report’ (sic) apparently 1994,, accessed August 2008.
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
After the survey, introduction of these technologies may take 18 months to ensure the project’s
success. Awareness raising activities and hands-on training form the main part of the programme. One
year is considered necessary to introduce the whole training programme into the communities
concerned, which will include starting production and marketing. A further six months is needed for
troubleshooting and assessing its regular use.
The transfer of this technology is a painstaking and ‘hands-on’ process because of the lack of
education in rural Nepal. It also requires the manufacture of tools and equipment for the briquette
production mentioned above. Eco Himal will facilitate the participation of local manpower and
organizations such as VDCs and ensure effective implementation through their trained staff.
Awareness raising on preventive health measures will be an integral part of the programme. This is
essentially focussed on the more vulnerable women and children, who spend much time in the kitchen
especially in winter.
3.4 Stages in introducing the various technologies:
(a) Stage 1, Survey: In order to understand how this project might be replicated in other areas, it will
first be necessary to implement a survey of land use, tenure and of population distributions. This
should be carried out scientifically, perhaps utilising The Glacier Trust’s postgraduate scholarship
programme. It should also include questions used in Eco Himal’s 1999 survey for comparison
Information about buildings, their type, number of rooms, number of occupants (max and min),
construction and roofing materials will also be needed to establish the most appropriate oven type for
each building and the best means of smoke extraction.
(b) Stage 2, Consultation & Education: Following the survey, a period of consultation will be
needed wherein the programmes are discussed with the relevant user groups and committees to
establish the potential benefits of the programmes, why they are being introduced, and who (initially)
would like to participate. This stage might also be used to initiate education programmes into forest
conservation and horticulture, household smoke extraction, efficient fuel burning, biomass briquette
production etc.
(c) Stage 3, Pilot programmes: This project is multifaceted. Its introduction must be through
carefully structured pilot programmes using a step by step approach based on information derived
from the survey and from the user group consultations, both form forest conservation and household
user perspectives. The success or otherwise of the pilot programmes are likely to give a clear
indication of the popularity of the wider programme.
(d) Staging the wider implementation of the project into other villages and communities
3.5 Anticipated problems and their solutions:
(a) Carbon Monoxide (CO):
Because of the apparent lack of any published information with regard to CO yields from burning the
briquettes, experiments were commissioned by The Glacier Trust to determine those levels. Further
experiments will determine if any other dangerous gasses are be given off by the burning of these
briquettes. The experiments were made by Joel Chaney under the supervision of Dr Mike Clifford at
Nottingham University in January 2009. Two briquettes were tested with similar results, namely that
the burning of a briquette in an unventilated room of 18 cubic meters, produced CO at a rate of 170180 parts per million (PPM) after one hour. This level appears to be slightly higher than that produced
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
by a wood fire. Kandpal et al. (1995)5 report that CO density can increase from floor level,
maximising at head height.
While this rate may not be hazardous for a short period, such as an hour’s cooking time, use of
briquettes should only be undertaken in well ventilated surroundings. Importantly, this means that
without proper ventilation briquettes should not be used for heating. Even low dosages (35-50 PPM)
are potentially dangerous if extended beyond an 8 hour period, according to Hutchinson Utilities6.
Ventilation in this context means the extraction of smoke or fumes from the house. Many Nepali
houses have open doors or windows on one side and it is noticeable how totally ineffective this can be
in terms of smoke extraction. The fact of a window or door being open is unlikely to provide any
significant ventilation.
Burring briquettes should therefore be seen in the same terms as other oven use, namely with a
chimney or extraction hood. This is integral to the education programme
(b) Landscape degradation:
Two aspects of briquette production are potentially harmful to the landscape. The first is the practice
of ‘stripping’, wherein every available shoot is cut to make charcoal biomass, only adding to the
problems we are trying to solve. The second is the extraction of clay. Both these points can be dealt
with by the community by making briquette production a community activity, and by designating
areas where biomass is to be collected and clay is to be extracted.
(c) Clay extraction by sieving: Clay can be derived from dry landslide sites by sieving. However
extreme care will be needed in clearing potentially dangerous rocks from the landslide debris upslope.
(d) Consistency and timing: If the briquettes are to be marketed, care must be taken as to their
consistency. Badly made briquettes can burn out in 40 minutes, while well made ones can burn for
over 70 minutes. Consideration also needs to be given to the timing of production, in order to have
briquettes available for the colder season.
(e) Respiratory problems from charcoal grinding and clay sieving. As with many manufacturing
processes, the mouth and nose should be protected against dust during these processes.
(f) Care and maintenance of briquette manufacturing assets.
(g) Household hearth: While the ambient smoke will be reduced by alteration to cooking practices, it
must be recognised that the household fire is the cultural centre of the house.
3.6 Market linkages:
By introducing training in understanding about market linkages, groups can generate income to
support their family. Time can be used productively during the off farming season, and employment
opportunities can be generated for those who have no other resources, skills or knowledge. Where it
has been introduced already (see 3.3.1), the production of bio-briquettes is understood to have brought
a new dimension to the lives of women as it has also become a source of income for them. Women can
earn up to NRs. 6000 per month by producing briquettes. A group (3-4 women) produces around 800
briquettes per day on average.
3.7 Sustainability of inputs:
Eco Himal uses the following strategies during and after implementing projects in order to ensure
sustainability during and after the implementation phase:
Kandpal, J.B.,Maheshwari, R.C. & Tara Chandra Kandpal. 1995 Indoor air pollution from domestic cookstoves
using coal, Kerosene and LPG, Energy Conservation Management 36, 1067 – 1072.
Anon, n.d.,accessed February 2009
The Glacier Trust
Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal
Forest Conservation & Alternative Fuel Resources
- Follow up by Eco Himal trained Staff: Maintaining contact and management training contact with
CDCs and VDCs; Maintaining contact with CRT staff.
- Respect for Nature: Ensuring greater awareness and implementation of actions which are
environmentally sensitive.
- Respect for socio-cultural conditions.
- Encompassing the gender dimension, particularly capacity building, empowering and involvement of
- Ensuring economic sustainability particularly through formation and capacity building of user groups
and cooperatives that will create and maintain a marketing network in the neighbouring areas.
4. Benefits and Beneficiaries:
Depending upon the rate of increase in atmospheric warming, benefits from the forest conservation
programmes should be apparent within a relatively short time (5 – 10 years) and in some cases within
a couple of years. But because part of this project is effectively a disaster prevention measure, a
successful outcome will have to be seen in terms of maintenance of the status quo. This may be a
difficult concept to ‘sell’ to the beneficiaries. However whichever aspect of the project is in view, the
main beneficiaries are poor and subsistence farmers and natural resource dependent households.
Specific efforts will be made to include women. Benefits will accrue throughout these rural
communities, through the awareness-raising training programmes and the hands-on training in forestry
and briquette production to a level where they can replicate the programme for other communities.
5 Qualification to act:
Eco Himal has been implementing important rural development projects in Nepal since 1993. It has
been active in the buffer zone of Makalu - Barun National Park in the north-eastern part of Nepal.
Activities focus on income generation, infrastructure, and agriculture & livestock. Additional areas of
intervention such as natural resource management, biodiversity, conservation, education and
emancipation of women are part of the holistic project concept. In Solu Khumbu Eco Himal has
initiated a Basic Needs Project, a project involving construction of bridges and paths, construction of
compost toilets, community shops, schools and health posts and drinking water supply. The Rolwaling
Ecotourism Project (RETP), implemented by Eco Himal since 1997 in the Gauri Shankar region in
northern Nepal, aims to bring economic benefits to the area while promoting conservation of the
environment and the cultural heritage. Additionally, Eco Himal implements a project focusing on
reforestation and agriculture in Pakistan.
6. Sources and some further reading:
(a) Stoves & Biomass Briquettes:
Practical Action 2007 Inventory of Innovative Indoor Smoke Alleviating Technologies in
Nepal, Practical Action/Nepal.
Shree Raj Shakya for Practical Action 2007 Report on Design Improvement Study of Smoke
Hoods promoted by Practical Action Nepal, Practical Action /Nepal
(b) Forest:
Rasul, G. & Karki, M. 2007 Participatory Forest Management in South Asia, ICIMOD,
Statz, J., Kotru, R., Beukeboom, H., Rasul, G., Kerkhoff, E. & Karki, M. 2007 Advances in
Participatory Forest Management in South Asia, ICIMOD, Kathmandu.