Going bananas for sustainable research — scientists create fuel from African crop waste

   
   
06 Apr 2009 12:49:00.000

Bananas are a staple crop of Rwanda. The fruit is eaten raw, fried and baked — it even produces banana beer and wine. Around 2 million tons are grown each year but the fruit is only a small percentage of what the plant produces. The rest — skins, leaves and stems — is left to rot as waste.

Now scientists at The University of Nottingham are looking at ways to use that waste to produce fuel, developing simple methods of producing banana briquettes that could be burnt for cooking and heating.

PhD student Joel Chaney in the Faculty of Engineering has developed a method of producing the briquettes using minimal tools and technology, which could be used in communities all over Africa.

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First, the banana skins and leaves are mashed to a pulp in a hand-operated domestic meat mincer. This pulp is mixed with sawdust to create a mouldable material — in Rwanda it would be mixed with sun dried banana stems, ensuring the whole plant is used.

 

Then, the pulp mix is compressed into briquette shapes and baked in an oven at 105 degrees. Again, in Africa the fuel would be left for a few days to dry in the sun.

Once dried, the briquettes form an ideal fuel, burning with a consistent steady heat suitable for cooking. Joel has tested this himself by cooking fried banana fritters, which is similar to “red-red” a popular Ghanaian dish.

 

“A big problem in the developing world is firewood,” said Joel. “Huge areas of land are deforested every year, which leads to the land being eroded. People need fuel to cook and stay warm but they can’t afford the more expensive types, like gas.

 

“As well as the environmental damage this causes, it also takes a lot of time. Women can spend four or five hours a day just collecting firewood. If an alternative fuel could be found they could spend this time doing other things — even generating an income.

 

“Using waste to create fuel is key to sustainable development, and this method could be easily transferred across Africa.”

 

Joel’s supervisor Dr Mike Clifford, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, is working on a number of sustainable materials and technologies including yak wool, recycled banknotes, waste cardboard and vernonia oil — a naturally occurring resin found in Ethiopian plants.

 

“Joel’s work on biomass briquetting is very interesting. We’ve been able to turn all sorts of waste materials into fuel and to predict how well different mixtures of materials will burn. I’m looking forward to some sunny weather so I can try the banana briquettes out at home on my barbeque!”

 

To see how Joel makes his banana briquettes, watch the video at

www.test-tube.org.uk/videos/pages_joel_bananas.htm

 

— Ends —

 

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

 

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

 

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

 

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Mike Clifford on +44 (0)115 846 6134 , mike.clifford@nottingham.ac.uk

Tara De Cozar

Tara De Cozar - Internal Communications Manager

Email: tara.decozar@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8560 Location: University Park

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Published Date
Friday 17th July 2009

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