Clean Fuels and Cookstoves for Schools in Uganda

by The Charcoal Project
Henry and TCP
Henry and TCP's Sylvia Herzog, at the equator

Dear Friends and Supporters-


This year has been an exciting year for TCP and our friends in Rubaare, Uganda.  Kim and I are happy to announce that TCP has just formed a collaboration with MIT D-Lab called the Harvest Fuel Initiative.  Starting with initial funding of $100,000 from the D-Lab Scale-Ups program at MIT, HFI will provide capital, technical expertise and marketing support to small and medium sized entrepreneurs starting renewable biomass energy businesses.  The initiative will act as an incubator for these small businesses, supporting the growth and development of the alternative fuel briquette market, which is still in its early stages in many countries.  Initially, HFI will focus on businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa where forest degradation has led to spiraling wood and charcoal prices and a severe negative impact on the poor.  We are very excited about collaborating with D-Lab, which has a strong history of technology dissemination in the developing world, and look forward to sharing our project selection with you in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, we have made great strides on our project at the Rubaare Educational Foundation in Rubaare, Uganda.  I had the opportunity to visit Henry Twinemasko, REF Director, and the students at the school in October when I was in Africa.  Henry and the students are extremely grateful for all of the support you have given over the past two years.  This year, we have built a shelter for the briquette production operation, installed solar lights in one of the primary schools, and sent Henry on a training trip to one of our other projects to learn how to carbonize agricultural waste for use in the briquettes.  While on that trip, Henry was able to see a demonstration of a new type of institutional stove which will cut his fuel consumption by 70-80%.  Our short term goal is to raise the money to equip the main campus with these new stoves, and then eventually purchase stoves for the primary schools as well.  
Towards that end, we are participating in GlobalGiving’s Recurring Donation Campaign ( Throughout the entire month of December, Global Giving is matching all new monthly recurring donations 100% up to $100 per donor. 

So thank you again for all your generous past support and we hope you will consider continuing to support TCP and its efforts in Rubaare.

Warmest holiday wishes to you and your family!

Sylvia and Kim
Students welcoming their TCP visitor
Students welcoming their TCP visitor
Henry and a student installing solar lights
Henry and a student installing solar lights
Henry with the briquette team
Henry with the briquette team
Sofie Twinemasiko with her pupils
Sofie Twinemasiko with her pupils
The smoky, dilapidated kitchen
The smoky, dilapidated kitchen
We're going from this...

Things just keep looking up for our REF school project in Uganda and our plan to replicate and scale the program.

That's because, as I write to you, our very own Sylvia Herzog has probably landed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on a whirlwind East Africa tour that will eventually take her to visit our BFF and REF school director, Henry Twinesmasiko. Sylvia's detour through Tanzania is not to check out the sights in Zanzibar. She's actually on her way to visit several early stage, entrepreneur-driven briquette programs in the region as part of our newly minted Harvest Fuel Initiative for sub-Saharan Africa.

First let me tell you about Henry and the REF school since our last report.

As it turns out, we are in the process of figuring out the best cooking stove solution that can be designed and built to meet the school's need. The aim with this clean cookstove is first and foremost to reduce the REF school's overall consumption of wood for the daily cooking of breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the 600 students that attend the REF school in Rubaare. Once we're satisfied with the stove's performance, we will replace traditional stoves at other REF schools with these more fuel efficient, clean burning options.

Overall, our aim with deploying these stoves at the high school is to establish a sustainable alternative solid biomass fuel solution that integrates briquette making for carbonized biomass, efficient conversion to charcoal, and efficient cookstoves.Believe it or not, it's not that easy to find a good efficient cookstove model for the region! We hope to have some stove models to share by the end of the year.

How this ties into Sylvia's trip is quite simple:

It turns out her trip is actually also a reconnaissance mission to meet with fuel briquette entrepreneurs in East Africa as part of an ambitious program we've signed with the amazing folks at D-Lab at MIT to identify, accelerate, and expand the replication of sustainable solid biomass fuel alternatives across the region. And the way this will benefit Henry Twinemasiko and the 1600 low income students that REF schools serve is that Henry will have access to more technology and business solutions through this program.

The collaboration with D-Lab is an incredibly exciting opportunity and a testament to the interest that institutions like MIT have developed in our REF Biomass Energy Efficiency Program in Uganda.

Speaking of the REF, we estimate it will take about 5 thousand dollars (we to source and build this stove. Nevertheless, we're looking for a model that can be replicated elsewhere and scaled, so stay tuned! And please donate today on this 30% match day, which means that, for example, for every $100 you donate we get $130.

Warm regards,

Kim, Henry, Sylvia and everyone at the REF schools in Rubaare, Uganda! this hotter, cleaner cooking stove! this hotter, cleaner cooking stove!


View of the new shelter under construction.
View of the new shelter under construction.

Dear Friends,

First, a note of gratitude.

Since launching our effort a year ago on Global Giving, a total of 77 people like you have donated 94 times to raise a combined $7,810 for our Biomass Energy Efficiency Project in Rubaare, Uganda. Although the largest donations have come from the team effort of the student body at the Seven Bridges Middle School in Westchester County, New York, we are grateful to all of you who have stepped up to the challenge.

No one is more grateful, however, than school director Henry Twinemasiko. I say this because I know that Henry has had to make painful budget choices based on the ever increasing cost of woodfuel and gasoline for transport.

The funds you've contributed have helped the school start its own fuel-briquette-making project, which today is saving the school thousands of dollars each term in woodfuel cooking costs. Your donations have also helped build a shelter on the school grounds that will house the fuel briquetting activity. The shelter is especially important because the rainy season plays havoc on fuel-briquette production.

Out with the old. In with the new.

With some of the funds we have left on hand, our plan with Henry is swap out the old, inefficient -- and highly toxic -- cookstoves for more clean-burning and efficient ones.

Ma, why do they need a new stove?

Why is having a clean burning, efficient cookstove important? For one, it will save the school even more money on fuel costs. That’s because, when it’s time to cook, the better stoves will use fewer briquettes and/or woodfuel overall. The better stoves will also reduce the incredibly toxic smoke that chokes the kitchens during the cooking process. As you may know, toxic indoor air pollution from cooking on inefficient cookstoves kills about 2 million people each year around the world, mostly women and children. In short, clean cookstoves save lives and make business sense!

More money saved means we are one step closer to inagurating the first High School in Uganda dedicated to Renewable Fuels and Technologies. How cool is that?!

Finding the right fit

For our improved cookstove project, we estimate it will cost $5,000 to $7,000 USD to get a stove designed and built that can meet the school’s needs. We’ll be looking for stoves that can burn wood or briquettes and, believe it or not, they are not easy to find! Plus, we want to make sure the stoves we build at the school meet international indoor air pollution and efficiency standards and can be replicated at the other schools inside and out of the REF network. So your donation is not paying for just one stove, it's going to help build multiple stoves at the other REF schools. We will share with you the design of the stove over the coming weeks!

The TCP partnership with REF schools is not only about helping one school in one community. TCP and REF see this as a tremendous opportunity to establish a model for renewable energy and efficient technology. Our shared vision is to see our project replicated many times again in African schools over the coming months and years! So, please keep supporting us, if you can!

And please don’t hesitate to contact Sylvia or myself if you have any questions. We can be reached at or

And thank you for your continued support!

-- Kim

The students help build the shelter.
The students help build the shelter.
A work-study program provides hands-on experience.
A work-study program provides hands-on experience.
Next: upgrading these toxic, inefficient stoves
Next: upgrading these toxic, inefficient stoves
Rendering of the briquette shelter designed by 5H
Rendering of the briquette shelter designed by 5H

Dear Friend and Supporter:

Last time we touched base, Kim had just returned from Africa and had exciting news about the progress of our project at the Rubaare Educational Foundation in Rubaare, UG.  This time we are happy to announce, that based on your excellent response to our appeal and some fundraising by the Seven Bridges Middle School in Westchester County, NY, we are ready to build the much needed shelter for briquette production in Rubaare. 

As you can see from the rendering, the shelter is not only elegant, airy, and functional, it also integrates environmentally friendly features, such as rain-water capture, and all local materials that have been assessed for sustainability.  How do we know this? We’ve done the due diligence on the source of the materials, for one. More importantly, however, the shelter is designed by 5H Architecture in New York, a firm that specializes in high-end, LEEDs certified structures. (Full disclosure: Alex Stojanovic, one of the principles at the firm, is on the Board of Advisers of TCP. Thank you 5H!)

For financial sustainability reasons, our plan is to build the structure in two phases. The immediate priority is to get a roof over the heads of the briquette making operation and operators.  Once the shelter is built, the students will continue to produce briquettes unimpeded by rain.  We can then turn to the next phase of our program, which is providing the schools with clean cookstoves.  We are very excited about this phase, which will dramatically improve the health of staff and students involved in food preparation.  This step will also reduce the schools fuel consumption and the excess briquette production can be sold to the community for income to the school. The net result is better health, reduced financial expenditures, and reduced consumption of unsustainability harvested and inefficiently produced wood energy.

REF has six schools, each feeding at least 200-300 students, and standard clean cookstoves cannot accommodate the large pots used for institutional cooking.  With your generous financial support, however, we can build a custom institutional stove for each school, which will accommodate their needs.  Fortunately, Global Giving has a Donor Matching Day coming on June 13th, which will increase the value of each of your donations. 

In the 18 months since we began working with Henry and the REF team our understanding of the project has matured beyond our original intention to produce better fuels and better stoves for the school and the community. Today, it is clear to our African partners and ourselves that together we are training the next generation of developers of energy efficient and renewable energy solutions.

So thank you again for all your past support and please consider helping get the REF schools to the next level on the path to energy sufficiency.

Kind regards,

Kim and Sylvia

Postcard from Africa’s Green Energy Frontier

I returned just a few days ago from visiting our project and partner in Uganda, just in time to submit this update for the Global Giving Matching Day, Wednesday, March 14th.

I was in Rubaare to check on the progress of the first phase of our clean tech/renewable fuel project with our local partner, the Rubaare Education Foundation schools.

As you might recall, we invested your generous contributions last fall to buy 10 hydraulic briquette-making presses to kick start our fuel-briquette-making industry at the school.  The goal is to use the fuel briquettes to reduce, and eventually displace completely, the use of wood in the school’s kitchen. 

What I saw in Rubaare

Overall, the project is working as intended.  Briquettes are being produced.  They burn well. And they are reducing the school’s dependence and costs of using traditional wood fuel.  In fact, I was pleased to learn that, by Henry Twinemasiko’s estimates, (the REF school director), they have saved the equivalent of three truckloads of woodfuel in the course of this term! Financially, that means a savings of about 1M Ugandan shillings (about USD 300).  The savings are important but we expect to do better when we are able to ramp up production and introduce more energy efficient stoves to replace the very smoky, crude mud stoves currently in use.

Problems and Proposed Solutions

Henry and I sat down with some of the members of the Briquette-Making Club to learn what’s working and what’s not.  Here’s what the students and kitchen staff said:

1.  Production is right now limited due to the fact that the briquettes are currently being produced outdoors.  This is supposed to be the rainy season, but everything’s messed up. Either way, it still makes it difficult for the briquettes to dry when it does rain.  The solution to this problem is straightforward: build a shelter to house operations.  And that’s what we plan to do thanks to the successful fundraising carried out online and through the Green Team from Seven Bridges Middle School in Westchester County, New York.  Thank you!

Part of my time with Henry was spent pricing out materials and designing the shelter.  I’m confident we can build a good shelter for under US 2,000.00

2.  Securing the raw material for the briquettes.  The briquettes are currently made using a combination of sawdust, charcoal fine, and paper (which acts as a binding agent).  There are two problems with using these materials. The first is that none of these ingredients originate from true renewable sources, as would be the case using agricultural waste. What’s more, without a large, concentrated urban base, waste paper is not easy to come by.  The second problem is that some of the locals are catching on the potential value of the byproduct of their wood milling and charcoal trading operations.  This means they are raising their costs for our raw material.

Our solution is to experiment with carbonizing various types of agricultural waste available to use as a substitute to charcoal dust and/or saw dust.   We also would like to purchase a chipper or grinding mill to improve the quality and size of the raw material used.  One additional benefit is that the school can also use the grinding mill to grind the maize (corn) that is a basic ingredient of the ubiquitous “posho” dish.  The grinding mill would further reduced the price of each 100kg of maize purchased from around 140K – 180K Ugandan Shillings down to 100K – 120K.

3.  Reduce use of briquettes per meal cooked and improve indoor air pollution. It’s very apparent that the stoves currently used are hugely inefficient and very polluting.  I was only able to stay in the kitchen for a few minutes because the air inside was so quickly choked with smoke.  Our plan is to quickly identify a brick and mortar design for a better stove that will boost efficiency and reduce emissions.

4.  Explore different briquettes designs.  One of the important goals of the project is not just to reduce wood fuel consumption, but also create an income generating opportunity for the school. The current briquettes are not optimal for cooking in the traditional stoves used in homes.  We think the school could produce either an extruded briquette or a “fireball” type briquette, which could more easily be used as a substitute in wood and/or charcoal-burning stoves.

In my roundtable with the members of the Briquette-making Club, it became evident that REF and TCP are together nurturing the country’s next generation of energy efficiency and green fuel engineers.  In light of the recent report that shows this as a potentially huge economic opportunity, we’re excited to be at the forefront of training and building Uganda’s future green economy.

As our donors and investors, we hope you will also share our enthusiasm for our venture, especially because we could not do this without your support. Thank you!


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Organization Information

The Charcoal Project

Location: Brooklyn, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​
The Charcoal Project
Project Leader:
Sylvia Herzog
Mount Kisco, NY United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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