Fried, raw, baked or even distilled into beer or wine, bananas are a staple in the East African country of Rwanda, where approximately two million tons of the fruit are grown annually. Though much of the fruit is used, the majority of the skins, leaves and stems are left behind as waste.
Scientists at the University of Nottingham are developing ways to use the banana waste to produce fuel. Using minimal tools and technology, PhD student Joel Chaney has developed a method of producing simple banana briquettes that can be burnt as fuel.
“A big problem in the developing world is firewood,” Chaney tells Science Daily. “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.”
In additional to the resource depletion and erosion, collecting firewood can be a long process, with villagers spending hours traveling to and collecting forest wood for fuel.
To turn the banana waste into burnable briquettes, the banana skins and leaves are first mashed to a pulp and then mixed with sawdust or sun dried banana stems to create a moldable material. The pulp is compressed into a brick shape and baked in an oven, or sun dried for a few days if an oven is not available. Once dried, the bricks form an ideal fuel for cooking.
Similar to biochar, the technology of using waste to create a fuel source is a growing trend that could represent a solution to environmental challenges worldwide.