Charcoal Press Design in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Safety for Women and Environmental Conservation
Environmental concerns come secondary to human needs in war ravaged countries. However, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo a new project is being developed that marries social action with environmental conservation to provide women with an alternative fuel source, in an area where war has made the simple act of cooking a meal a potentially fatal activity.
In Congo, women are traditionally tasked with preparing meals and collecting firewood. As war and hunger put additional pressures on the environment, women are forced to travel further distances into dangerous forest to collect fuel. To help these women protect themselves from abuse, a program began by Advocacy Project and Legacy Foundation to build and distribute biomass charcoal presses. These presses use organic waste thrown out by households every day to create a renewable and inexpensive cooking fuel.
The three-step process is elegantly simple:
1. Waste like sugar cane, fruit peels, and wood shavings are grinded down into a pulp;
2. Then the pulp is mixed with water and this compound is compressed down into compact circular briquettes in hand operated presses;
3. Finally, the briquettes are left out in the sun for several days to cure.
The presses free women from the potentially hazardous activity of searching for wood in the forest, and the sale of the finished charcoal creates a cottage industry for enterprising women in an area badly in need of economic stimulus.
These presses and the corresponding cook stoves, called bombulas, are a perfect example of sustainable engineering. They are cheap and can be constructed locally from scrap metals. The presses rely on human power to operate and the briquettes are made out of materials available almost anywhere on the planet. This project is a prime example of appropriate design that takes local social and environmental conditions into account.
How important do you think feedback from communities is to integrating new technologies in developing nations?