INNOVATION BENEFITS THE ENVIRONMENT AND HELPS SMALL FARMERS

THE PRODUCTION OF BRIQUETTES AND PELLETS LESS POLLUTANT THAN FIREWOOD, DONE FROM AGRICULTURAL RESIDUES AND OTHER WASTE, IS PRESENTED AS A REVOLUTIONARY ALTERNATIVE.



July 29, 2016

A project being developed by the Department of Forestry of our University offers an option to innovate in agricultural biofuels, with the dual purpose of generating a more environment-friendly heating and, at the same time, proposing a production alternative that could mean an additional source of income to small farmers.

"Innovation in Densified Solid Biofuels of Agricultural Origin for Urban Households and Industrial Consumers" is the name of the project headed by academic Ricardo Baettig, with funding from the Innovation in Competitiveness Fund (FIC-R).

"Is an initiative that is clearly aligned with the promotion of the use of alternative fuels, as it is the case with biomass, so we will try to demonstrate the feasibility, from a technical, environmental and economic point of view, of the manufacturing at medium and low scale of fuels from solid derivatives of agricultural waste, as it is currently done with the waste of the large-scale wood ", he explained.

Baettig said that the benefits are clear: "Our proposal aims to show that it is feasible to produce briquettes and pellets in small and medium scale, so as to have fuels with excellent features including, for example, low and homogeneous humidity, but which do not involve increasing the current costs of house heating, achieving prices that are competitive with firewood".

Today, the production of pellets and briquettes is based exclusively on the use of waste from sawmills with large levels of investment, as opposed to the proposal presented by the Department of Forestry based on the use of residues from corn, wheat or rice, as well as agro-industrial waste, such as skins and pits and even recycled paper, peri-urban weeds, pruning remains and other components, which implies a diversification of the sources of raw material.

Poor Ventilation

Baettig talked about air pollution in the urban area as a result of the smoke from home heating on cold days, where the height of the smoke dispersion layer is lowered. "In an afternoon with poor atmospheric ventilation, it is enough that one in every ten households lights on the fireplace to lower the air quality down to health alert levels. And obviously the proportion of households with firewood stoves is more than ten percent," he explained.

The situation becomes more complex, according to the director of the project, when the smoke particles scattered over the city barely dissipate in a number of days, leading to deduce that, even if the firewood possesses very good humidity and conventional stoves combustion conditions, the levels of harmful particulate matter are exceeded.

In this scenario, he argued that the biomass pellets are transformed into a viable and sustainable alternative to renovate the heating methods, through the use of local, not imported, renewable fuel and whose amounts of particulate emission are compatible with its use in the cities of the South of Chile.

Business Model

One of the main lines of action of the project is the development of a pellet production business model based on small and medium size production scales. In this perspective it is considered feasible to involve small and medium-sized farmers who produce lignocellulosic waste, i.e., similar in chemical composition to wood, but of agricultural origin.

According to preliminary calculations, a small farmer can generate about 200 kilos of dense fuel, either pellet or briquette, per day with an investment of less than eight million pesos (US$ 12 300, approx.). "Considering a sales price of 100 pesos per kilo, he could produce about 40 tons annually that would generate some four million pesos (US$ 6 000, approx.) annually, for which he would only need to process waste from about 10 to 20 hectares", said Ricardo Baettig.

In the case of big farmers or associations of small farmers, they can consider that a production of 3 000 kilos per day, projected in a season, could mean an income of 60 million pesos a year (US$ 92 000, approx.) and 600 tons of pellets or briquettes.

This project is under development and, as part of it, a video was produced explaining the measures of the Talca - Maule Atmospheric Decontamination Plan, which seeks to educate people on how to use heating in a healthier manner with lower smoke emissions.



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