Charcoal production from sustainably produced bamboo on Cebu Island, Philippines

On the island of Cebu, Philippines, a project developed by ECO-NATURE-PRODUCTS PLC and external partners produces charcoal from sustainably harvested bamboo. In addition to the yields from a bamboo farm specifically established for this purpose, raw materials from external sources such as private farmers, cooperatives and existing, unused resources are utilized for production. All bamboo is collected centrally, processed and fed to a modern rotary kiln, producing charcoal under usage of a pyrolysis process (carbonisation).

The proximity of the provincial capital of Toledo City, located on the central west coast of Cebu, was chosen as location for the project: In addition to favourable climatic and topographical conditions, numerous economic and sociographic aspects speak for Toledo.

Modern, sustainable bamboo farming

The main supplier is a sustainably managed bamboo farm with an initial acreage of 45 hectares. Bamboo is cultivated and harvested all year round using modern cultivation methods. Not only the farmland has been selected with care, but also the species to be cultivated: the tropical Bambusa balcooa combines a high energy content with rapid growth, competitive crop yields and good resilience to environmental influences and pests.

From preparatory tillage to planting, cultivation and harvest- all steps have been precisely adapted to the species and local conditions and are permanently monitored and optimised by trained specialists, supported by modern machinery and technology. This enables efficient, sustainable management, and at a later stage the accurate determination of harvest times and quantities. The bamboo farm benefits from the agricultural know-how of the farming partner RBRCI (Romblon Bamboo Research Center Inc.) right from the very beginning.

A bamboo culm only requires 4-5 years to harvest. Since the plant is constantly developing new stalks, there is no need for costly and time-consuming new planting - and thus no waiting time for regrowth as known from common forestry crops. During the growth phase, the bamboo is trimmed several times, i.e. some culms are harvested before they reached full maturity. On one hand, this facilitates the growth of new culms; on the other hand, it diversifies the harvesting periods, allowing permanent, perennial harvesting. In general, a bamboo plant is never harvested completely. Only fully ripened, woody culms are picked.

Bamboo farm

Smart resource utilization and cooperation

The bamboo farm does not produce enough material to provide the necessary supply for the rotary kiln on its own. However, this is not a necessity, as rich local stocks of pre-existing bamboo can be utilised. Farmers, cooperatives, and unused stocks under the administration of the Philippine Ministry of the Environment (DENR) provide sufficient renewable material in the immediate surroundings to enable sustainable production of charcoal from the beginning. Dedicated certification procedures guarantee that only bamboo obtained through sustainable cultivation is purchased and processed from these stocks.

This strategy not only allows existing, yet untapped raw material capacities in the local environment to be added into the economic process. It consciously pursues a cooperative approach that aims to actively involve local authorities and private farmers in the project, and thus a fair share in its economic success. Positive side effects of this strategy are the active support of the project by local stakeholders as well as significant cut of initial investment costs.

Drone above farm

Processing & distribution

The first bamboo to be harvested is local bamboo from the vicinity. Starting with the first harvest of the self-cultivated bambooa balcooa, the local bamboo is gradually replaced by the project's own harvests.

All bamboo to be processed is collected, sorted, dried, chopped and stored centrally. With the help of an automatic conveyor system, the bamboo chips produced in this way are then fed to a modern rotary kiln, in which they are converted into charcoal by means of a pyrolysis process under the influence of high heat (so-called carbonisation). This process takes place in an enclosed system; by-products such as gases, tar and ash can be completely isolated and recycled. The rotary kiln has a processing capacity of approx. 1,000 kg raw material per hour, producing 300-350 kg charcoal respectively. This way, more than 7,000 tons of biomass can be converted into approx. 2,500 tons of charcoal per annum. Automatically packaged with the use of a filling system, the charcoal is then ready for further distribution. Regional and international ports offer the logistical prerequisites for good access to international markets.

Charcoal from bamboo is characterised by a high calorific value (over 8,000 kcal/kg) as well as a low ash content and low residual moisture. Particlarly in Asia, bamboo charcoal is highly valued due to its properties and therefore benefits from a stable, economically advantageous price situation.

A long-term buyer of bamboo charcoal has been identified, thus ensuring a stable economic success.

Bamboo chips and charcoal

Long-term opportunities

Looking into future perspectives, the project can be further developed in several areas: The farmland can be extended, which would further improve the quality of the raw material and security of supply.

Another interesting aspect is the subsequent processing of the charcoal into activated carbon. From a technical point of view, only one additional production step has to be added. With its diverse areas of application (i.e. filter systems, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products), activated carbon offers interesting economic opportunities for the project in the long run.