By Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer

Steve and Nancy Laible, CTI volunteers

As part of my project work with CTI, I along with my wife, Nancy Laible,  have been involved with the development of a device that uses rice hulls as a “feedstock” and converts them into a cooking fuel. The rice hull makes up about 20% by weight of the rice kernel. The goal of our current work in Vietnam is to gain an understanding of the communities where rice milling is taking place. If conditions and supply are appropriate, there may be an opportunity to introduce a rice hull production device into the area.

Vietnamese Rice Mill

After visiting a rice farm, we travel a few miles to a local rice mill. Because we are between harvest seasons, the mill is not active. There is a “watchman” (actually a watch woman) on duty in the small office. Our guide, Dai Tran, strikes up a conversation with her and we are able to ask a few questions. As the woman warms to our presence, she offers to give us a tour of the rice mill. It is clear that the equipment in the mill is very old, but functional. This particular mill serves a local market. Thus, much of the rice is sold in the area after processing.

Rice Hulls as cooking fuel

A portion of the rice hull by-product is used as fuel in large cook stoves where the function is to maintain a hot fire for long periods of time. The stoves used to burn bulk rice hulls are very similar to the “cook stoves” used in the USA some 80 to100 years ago when it was common to burn corn cobs in farming areas. The cook stoves are able to use the energy value of some of the rice hulls, but the large stoves and the bulk fuel is not practical for home use. We have gained useful information from this visit. We say farewell to our hostess and continue or quest for a more modern mill and more information about using rice hulls as fuel.

Published in Uncategorized

During December 2009, CTI volunteers Nancy and Steve Laible visited CTI projects in Bangladesh. They were on hand for the Grand Opening of the “Bangaler Alo” operating facility at Parbatipur in northwest Bangladesh. The facility represents the culmination of 12 months of planning for CTI to help sponsor and develop an efficient and sustainable solution for the increasing need for cooking fuel in developing countries.

The primary food staple in Bangladesh is rice. The area around Parbatipur is one of the largest rice growing areas of Bangladesh. In addition to producing tons of rice, the area also produces tons of non-edible biomass in the form of rice straw, rice husks and rice hulls. The rice hulls are being use at the Bangaler Alo facility to produce an alternative cooking fuel. A fairly simple process using compression and heat (derived from electricity) is used to transform rice hulls into a suitable cooking fuel in the form of a four-foot long “fuel stick” weighing about 8 pounds. The resulting fuel is price competitive with firewood and cleaner burning than either firewood or animal dung.

Nancy and Steve report that during the development stage, the operating facility has already demonstrated a number of benefits, including:

  1. Planet Friendly: From an environmental point of view, the facility has the potential for producing a product that is an alternative to firewood, reducing deforestation and, in turn, improving soil quality for agriculture.
  2. People Friendly: In many developing countries, animal dung, firewood, and even plastic are common forms of cooking fuel. The use of these fuel sources often spreads disease and can cause infection, respiratory problems, and even blindness. Rice hull fuel has the potential to mitigate two well-known health hazards that affect women and children in developing countries that use animal dung or firewood as a primary cooking fuel.
  3. Provides Economic Opportunities: The facility provides an enterprise opportunity for locals. In-country volunteers are currently working with four women in three locations to help set up vending operations as part of the planned retail distribution system.

CTI volunteers are working on developing a simple method that would allow rural subsistence farmers to make their own fuel sticks by hand. Next steps are dependent in large part on finding corporate or social purpose sponsors who share the vision and mission of CTI. Sponsors are needed to realize the full potential and social benefit of the work that has been started.

Published in Bangladesh