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How to Make Your Own Charcoal Briquettes

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Ngureco is a researcher with a background in math and natural sciences and an interest in Internet culture.

This article will provide you with all the information you need to start making your own charcoal briquettes.

This article will provide you with all the information you need to start making your own charcoal briquettes.

DIY Charcoal Briquettes

You can save a lot of money by making fuel briquettes for use in your home—and might even be able to make a small income by selling them to others.

Of course, making fuel briquettes is tedious and messy work not suitable for everyone. If you are one of those people seeking high-paying dirty jobs, then you may consider making charcoal briquettes to sell to your neighborhood. The demand for briquettes is there, and there is money to be made.

These DIY charcoal briquettes are smokeless and cleaner than lump charcoal, which is the main reason many people like them.

What Is a Charcoal Briquette?

A briquette is a block of compressed coal dust, charcoal dust, sawdust, and wood chips or biomass and is used as a fuel in stoves and boilers.

Charcoal is not like clay though—it is a material without plasticity and cannot be molded into a shape without adding a binding material. To form charcoal dust into briquettes, an agglomerating material is added to the charcoal dust, and then pressure is applied to the mixture to form a briquette.

Charcoal briquettes are blocks of compressed coal dust, charcoal dust, sawdust, and wood chips or biomass and are used as fuel in stoves and boilers.

Charcoal briquettes are blocks of compressed coal dust, charcoal dust, sawdust, and wood chips or biomass and are used as fuel in stoves and boilers.

Charcoal Briquette Ingredients

The ingredients of charcoal briquettes will usually fall under the following:

  • Heal Fuel: Wood charcoal, charcoal fines, mineral carbon, coal, and biomass will do fine.
  • Accelerants: Sodium nitrate and waxes are great choices, but sawdust can also be used.
  • White Ash: Whiting, lime, limestone, or calcium carbonate are cheap options.
  • Binders: Starches (cassava, corn, or wheat), acacia gum, and wastepaper pulp work well.
  • Press Releasers: Borax is generally best.
  • Fillers: Cement, clay, or sandy soil can help bulk up your briquettes.

How to Make Charcoal Briquettes

  1. Start With Heat Fuel (Wood Charcoal, Charcoal Fines, Mineral Carbon, Coal, or Biomass)
  2. Add Accelerants (Nitrates, Sawdust, or Waxes)
  3. Add White Ash (Whiting, Lime, Limestone, or Calcium Carbonate) to Extend Burn Rate
  4. Add Binders (Starches, Acacia Gum, or Wastepaper Pulp) to Help the Briquettes Hold Their Shape
  5. Add Borax to Aid in Press Release
  6. Add Fillers (Cement, Clay, or Sandy Soil)

Each of these steps is explained fully below.

1. Heat Fuel: Wood Charcoal, Charcoal Fines, Mineral Carbon, Coal, or Biomass

This is what provides the energy. The higher the percentage of heat fuel materials, the better the briquette. Try to get about 90% of heat fuel material for good briquettes that will give you more fire.

Get materials that will emit less ash. For example, very fine charcoal fines may have come from tree leaves and have a lot of dust and soil in them and will give more ashes. Larger fines are very good, and you just need crush them to appropriate size. You can use wood charcoal, charcoal fines, mineral carbon, coal, and biomass as heat fuel material.

2. Accelerants: Nitrates, Sawdust, or Waxes

Unlike lump charcoal, briquettes will need accelerants to burn faster, because there is a difference in the structure of briquettes compared with that of lump charcoal due to compaction. As a result, briquettes are not able to absorb sufficient oxygen for faster combustion.

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Nitrates are oxidants, and when heated, they give out oxygen for accelerated combustion of briquettes. The materials used are chemical nitrates, especially sodium nitrate. Avoid potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate, as they are dangerous.

In fact, you should not use nitrates unless you are a professional. To start with, nitrates are used in making fertilizers and can be expensive in many countries. In India, a kilogram of sodium nitrate currently goes for about US $1. Since you need about 3–4% in your briquettes, this will translate to a lot of money, such that your briquettes may not be priced well to compete with lump charcoal.

Nitrates vs. Sawdust

It’s important to note, however, that the nitrates are fuel energy that will also provide heat. If you are targeting high-end markets like the US, go ahead and use sodium nitrate as an accelerant in your briquettes, since that market is willing to pay more for quality. If you are targeting low-end markets in developing countries, forget about sodium nitrate. Instead, use sawdust as an accelerant.

Use about 10–20% of sawdust, but remember that un-carbonized sawdust will make your briquettes emit a lot of smoke. To reduce the smoke from sawdust, partly ferment your sawdust by just letting it stay in water for five days. Alternatively, you will need to carbonize your briquettes after you have made them.

3. White Ash: Whiting, Lime, Limestone, or Calcium Carbonate

White ash color is very appealing in briquettes. It functions almost like a symbol of quality.

When you light your briquettes in a stove, you need to know when they are ready. This is done by observing that the burning briquettes have turned white.

You can only see the white ashes, however, if your briquettes contain sufficient calcium carbonate, lime, or limestone. A 2–3% whiting, lime, limestone, or calcium carbonate is sufficient.

Whiting, lime, limestone, or calcium carbonate have in the past been very cheap products. But with the rising fuel prices, the costs of transporting the products have become high. It is because of this that in developing countries they may have to make do with charcoal briquettes of whatever ash color is available.

Whiting, lime, limestone, or calcium carbonate are not heat fuels, but they can lower the burning rate such that the briquettes burn for a longer period but at a reduced fire.

4. Binders: Starches, Acacia Gum, or Wastepaper Pulp

Charcoal is a material without plasticity, and charcoal dust cannot hold shape without adding a binding material. The best binder has proven to be starch.

Starch can be expensive though: it can cost a dollar per kilogram. You will need about 5–7% of starch to make briquettes. A 45-kilogram bag of charcoal fines will need 2–3 kilograms of starch, which will cost you $2–$3. This is a lot of money when you reflect on the fact that a 45-kilogram bag of charcoal in developing countries costs about $10.

What kinds of starch can you use for briquettes?

Any starch will do, but cassava is preferred because cassava tuber and chips are very cheap and easily available to low-income societies. The tubers are particularly good due to their high starch content.

Corn starch (maize starch), wheat starch, maize flour, wheat flour, and potato starch can also be used. These are foods though, and it can be difficult to make sense to a poor man that what he may consider valuable sustenance should be used by him to make charcoal briquettes. In any case, the world does not want us to "destroy" our foods to make charcoal briquettes. On the other hand, however, a packet of maize flour is of little value if you do not have fire to prepare the meal.

Gelatinizing Your Starches

To use the starch as a binder, you need to gelatinize it. Starch gelatinization is just breaking down the intermolecular bonds of starch molecules in hot water to form a thick paste that will stick the charcoal dust together.

In simpler language, just use your starch or flour to make porridge, and then use the sticky porridge to stick the charcoal dust or fines together.

A binder has to be used, and there is no shortcut—unless you wish to use lignin from biomass material by pressing your briquette material using a high-pressure briquette-pressing machine.

Other Potential Binders

Another good binder is gum arabic or acacia gum, which is harvested from the acacia tree. Acacia trees are very common in semi-arid areas, especially in the Sahel region of Africa and in particular Senegal, Sudan, Somalia, etc. A kilogram of high-quality gum arabic costs roughly $2 in Kenya. If you are to use 5% gum arabic for your charcoal briquettes, then this is not cheap either.

Mashed newsprint/waste paper pulp is also a good binder. Other binders such as molasses, cement, clay, and tar can be used, but the resulting briquettes are not the best.

5. Press Releasers: Borax

Borax or sodium borate is the chemical to use so that when your charcoal paste is pressed to form a block of briquette, the briquette releases itself from the press. This is only necessary if you are using a high-speed and high-pressure briquette-making machine. If you are using a simple press/manual press, this is not necessary.

Sodium borate is a chemical that is used in making detergents, cosmetics, buffer solutions, fire retardants, anti-fungal compounds, insecticide, as a flux in metallurgy, as texturing agent in cooking, and in enamel glazes. Since borax is used as a texturing agent in cooking, it is assumed to be safe for your briquettes.

6. Fillers: Cement, Clay, or Sandy Soil

Fillers are substances added to briquettes that add no energy value. Fillers’ value is just to increase the weight, density, or volume of the briquettes so that the users/buyers may think they are getting a good value for their money. It is a form of adulteration and only adds ash content.

If you feel that lump charcoal is a big challenge in terms of price to your charcoal briquettes, just add some filler to your charcoal briquettes and then lower your prices. Keep in mind though that fillers must be cheaper than the charcoal fines/dust you are using.

Unfortunately, there are very few materials that are cheaper than charcoal or charcoal fines. Cement can be used as filler but it is now more expensive than charcoal.