[Homestead] Sugar cane leaves charco

tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Wed Feb 9 19:24:53 EST 2005


*ack <mailto:feedback at goodnewsindia.com> || Send This Story To Friends 
<http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/birdcast.cgi> ||  Support GNI 




Low cost charcoal without wood.


ARTI of Pune wins the Ashden Prize for a system to turn sugar cane leaf 
trash into a resource.

The Ashden Award is the greatest prize that exists for innovative work 
concerning the environment in the Third World. Dr. A D Karve on behalf 
of ARTI, Pune walked up recently to receive the prestigious Rs.20 lakhs 
award at a ceremony in the UK. The judges declared themselves as 
'excited' about his work - an integrated fuel-from-waste system that can 
create thousands of rural entrepreneurs all over the world, while saving 
trees and reducing petro dependance. It is a success that took six long 
and little sung years in rural Maharashtra.

*_Priya plays with cane leaves:_*

Actually the adventure began with Anand Karve's adoring daughter, 
Priyadarshini in 1996. She was looking for a subject to research for her 
Master's thesis and chanced upon sugar cane leaves. Is there no use for 
this huge waste resource of Maharashtra? It doesn't decompose easily, 
cattle has no esteem for it and farmers consider it a disposal problem. 
They simply burnt it where it lay - in their fields.

Priya tried shredding and briquetting leaves in general in order to 
create fuel pellets. They were intractable. The process cost more in 
terms of energy than could be locked in the end product. "The problem is 
that leaves are a springy mass and not easily compacted. Cane leaves in 
addition contain a high silicate fraction - which is like sand," says 

Priya's academic pursuits distracted her for a while and there the 
matter stood until she finished her doctoral thesis in physics. She came 
back to the idea and decided to char the cane leaves. A proposal by her 
to try this out got her funding under the Young Scientist Programme of 
the Department of Science and technology. By now her father, Anand 
Dinkar Karve was beginning to be impressed by Priya's work and the 
potential of the idea. A scion of an illustrious family of Maharashtra 
given to learning and social activism, Anand Karve is a doctorate in 
botany from the university of Tubingen, Germany. After many positions of 
'employment' he finally gravitated to his true love: making science and 
technology solve India's rural problems. Appropriate Rural Technology 
Institute [ARTI] started in 1996 by a group of scientists and workers, 
carries out development work on a dizzying variety of projects, funded 
by various agencies. Sample these: making tissue culture affordable to 
farmers by a post culture multiplication method, an optimising terra 
cotta sensor/controller for drip irrigation, a roofless 'green-house' 
that is right for India, a low cost method to fabricate carts using 
bamboo instead of steel and so on. "He's a restless 65 year old, 
bubbling with energy and he can attract and motivate groups of people to 
explore new ideas," says Priya. Even as this article is written he is in 
far Tripura, [-which incidentally,is noticed by main-media only when 
there is trouble there] working among farmers on local problems. "I 
haven't seen him after he got the prize. Before I could catch up with 
him, he was off to the North East," smiles Priya.

*_Char it!: _*

Back to our story now. The potential was like a mountain that *had* to 
be climbed. Maharashtra, India's largest sugar producer, generated an 
annual waste of five million tonnes of leaves. If only they could be 
made to cook meals in homes, the environment could be protected, trees 
and petroleum saved, employment generated and fields cleared.

But the gritty cane leaf stood defiant. Having failed to compact it 
mechanically, ARTI decided to char it to produce charcoal. This 
seemingly obvious approach had not so far been attempted anywhere. For 
equally obvious reasons: unlike wood the traditional candidate for 
charcoal, cane leaves present a large surface area per given weight. 
Thus the leaves 'burn' rather than 'char'. Many initial attempts by ARTI 

The breakthrough came when they thought of packing the leaves tightly in 
a retort [which is really a can with a lid]. Starved of oxygen the 
leaves pyrolised and crumbled, yielding charcoal powder. Karves knew now 
they could reform the rowdy leaf. Since then, their approach has been to 
develop an integrated technology that can trigger hundreds of rural 

*_A rural business system:_*

The kiln itself was designed to be hand made and small enough for a 
farmer's backyard. It was easily top-loaded by removing the hood. The 
original steel cans failed frequently. Karve's replaced them with 
standard stainless steel lidded cans available throughout rural India. 7 
of these could be snugly fitted in the kiln. The cans were densely 
packed with leaves to minimise space for oxygen. The fuel to fire the 
kiln is also cane trash, burning on a grid below the cans. The narrow 
air spaces between the cans force the flue gases to fully work on their 
task of heating the cans before escaping to the chimney. And, finally in 
a deliciously innovative twist, they put a tiny hole at the bottom of 
each can: as the process went on, gases of pyrolysis within the cans 
escaped from the bottom, burnt as fuel and helped increase overall 
yield. The ARTI kiln today delivers a whopping 27% of input as charcoal 

After a 45 minute firing, the stuff inside the kiln is easily pulverised 
with a light roller. To bind the powder, a low cost starch made from 
floor sweepings of flour mills is used. To turn out briquettes, the 
powder is mixed with starch and extruded using a manual meat 
grinder/extruder. Simplicity all the way!

Karves did not end there. Simultaneous, with all this work on kilns, 
they were working on a cooking system too: a domestic stove to burn ARTI 
charcoal and a double walled family cooker!

Priya says delightedly: "The business is not viable when scaled up: thus 
it cannot be hijacked by big business! The moment you start transporting 
leaf trash, the costs will get at you. But if a farmer's family sets up 
a backyard kiln, they are in business! In the 25-week cane harvest 
period, the family can make 15 tonnes of charcoal worth Rs.75000. What's 
more, they can also make and sell ovens and cookers." That's tempting 
business even by urban standards.

*_Reversed flow:_*

At the yield ARTI has achieved, the revenue works out to about Rs.1000 
per tonne of leaf trash. Multiply that by 5 million tonnes for 
Maharashtra alone and you get the size of trash gold India is sitting 
on. Most of all, all that money will go from urban to rural pockets. And 
oops, we forgot the small,incidental matter of saved trees, petro rupees 
and the environment! For the ARTI stove user the economics are 
attractive. The charcoal is expected to be priced at Rs.7 per kG. For a 
typical boiled and steamed Indian meal, a family of 5 can get by using 
just 100 gm of ARTI pellets in an ARTI cooker. Frying and grilling could 
take a little more but costs still beat kerosene by a ratio of 1:6. The 
corner chhaat- and chai- walla may have to drop prices!

And all of ARTI's and Karves' knowledge will remain in public domain. 
Their prize money will be spent on fifteen demonstration centres in 
Maharashtra and for developing and distributing design, dies and moulds 
for making the cookers and stoves. They would also be spreading the idea 
and offering training and counseling.

*_Not surprising, really!: _*

A clue to the rare breed of Karves lies in the bearded elder in the 
picture alongside. He was born in a once wealthy but then impoverished 
family in rural Konkan in 1858. He put himself through education while 
working to keep his household going. Widowed early, this brahmin boy 
caused a social explosion by marrying a young widow, an act that was to 
earn him ostracisation and extreme hardship for several decades. But 
that only motivated him to work for the welfare of inhumanly treated 
widows of early last century. He founded the first university for women 
in India and also a progressive home for widows. He gave over all his 
earnings to the causes he believed in and at age 85 was still founding 
institutions for public welfare. A grateful India crowned him with 
Bharat Rathna and he died, aged 104 in 1962. He was Dhondo Keshava Karve 
- affectionately known as Maharshi Karve. Anand Dinkar Karve is his 

Insufficiently appreciated by many, a perennial stream of Indians has 
reached out to fellow men with care and concern for their well being. 
It's on that stream's banks that India has survived these 5000 years. 
Maharshi Karve's offspring keep that stream in flow.

Appropriate Rural Technology Institute [ARTI]

2nd Floor, Maninee Apartments,

S.No.13, Dhayarigaon,

Pune 411 041, India.

Phone: 91 020 4390348/4392284

E-mail: adkarve at pn2.vsnl.net.in <mailto:adkarve at pn2.vsnl.net.in>

More information about the Homestead mailing list