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Overview - Markets and Users for Briquettes
“Selling a product isn’t as complicated as it’s made out to be. At its most basic, a sales program is defined principally by what you sell, who you sell to, and how you sell.”
The total production costs as the sum of investment and operation costs define the price of each product. But for competitive products with similar use, their comparison prices will decide their success or not on a given market. For briquettes this competitive market means the range of conventional fuels offered. One of the most important characteristics of a fuel is its calorific value, which is the amount of energy per mass it gives off when burned. Although briquettes, as with most solid fuels, are priced by weight or volume, market forces will eventually set the price of each fuel according to its energy content. However, the production cost of briquettes is independent of their calorific value as are the transportation and handling costs. The calorific value can thus be used to calculate the competitiveness of a processed fuel in a given market situation.
So one key question must be:
Does the price per unit of energy at which briquettes are sold compete with the fuels normally used?
The answer to this question is very site specific and depends on local circumstances. But for sure it is a crucial one and should be at least roughly calculated before starting a business with briquetting.
However, even if the calorific value is probably the most important factor, there is a range of other factors, such as ease of handling or burning characteristics, which also influence the market value of briquettes. These characteristics are more users specific: for example a private user who will burn charcoal briquettes for a garden barbecue will probably have different expectations than someone firing an industrial boiler with for example rice-husk briquettes.
This observation leads to a second key question for the market success of briquettes:
Can the particular briquette be burnt satisfactorily in the combustion appliance used by a particular consumer?
Whereas the first key question might be easy to answer by a simple comparison of solid fuel market prices, the second question might imply indirectly the willingness of consumers to alter their normal combustion appliances to suit briquettes. Without a doubt, before not only changing the fuel but also adopting a whole new combustion unit consumers will hesitate. They will ask themselves if briquettes offer any significant advantages, in terms of quality of combustion or in financial advantages that might persuade consumers to spend money on new appliances. But that is not enough: briquettes are also a consumer good. That means consumers must trust in their availability. This aspect might be especially difficult at the beginning of a briquetting activity while searching for penetrating a new market. The likely size of briquette supply relative to the total traditional fuel supply will be small. At these low kinds of penetration, consumers will always be aware of the need to give themselves an alternative source of fuel. This will certainly be true in the early stage of marketing briquettes whether or not, at the later stage, some consumers would have the confidence to commit themselves wholly to briquettes. Thus, briquettes have to be compatible with existing appliances with little or no modification if they are to have any chance of achieving initial market penetration.
A part of these general considerations about the competiveness of briquettes there might be some user specific thoughts. These are discussed in the following by regarding the solid fuel which is supposed to be substituted by briquettes.
Wood Burning Appliances
Technically there does not seem to be any major problem about using briquettes in existing cooking or heating appliances which were originally designed for burning wood. Due to the high density of briquettes and their surfaces sometimes problems with initial ignition and heat-raising are reported. But this fact can easily be overcome by co-firing wood at the beginning. It is probably more difficult to sell bigger sized briquettes simply because the physical dimensions of household stoves are limited. Large logs are similarly rejected.The general combustion behavior of biomass briquettes is comparable to wood. Briquettes can therefore normally be used in traditional stoves as a substitute or as co-firing of wood. In fact in many countries briquettes can be found on local markets. Especially for normal households in developing countries the comparative price and the availability of briquettes will play a major role for their acceptance rather than the technical characteristics when burnt in stoves designed for wood.
Charcoal Burning Appliances
Charcoal stoves are often the second important cooking appliance and therefore an important solid fuel market in many developing countries. As shown in the chapter of briquette production there is also the possibility to produce charcoal briquettes out of biomass residues. Practically, these charcoal briquettes can be burnt in stoves designed for normal charcoal. Literature report somehow contradiction results about the user acceptance of charcoal briquettes, something which may be related to the different cooking situations in which the briquettes were used. For example, S. Eriksson and Michael Prior mentions great problems in persuading households in India to burn molasses-bound charcoal briquettes due to complains about smells and about the speed of burning. On the other hand, market research carried out in Sudan on molasses-bound charcoal briquettes made from cotton stalks were said to be an acceptable charcoal substitute. Whereas a NL Agency study reports little success of cotton stalk charcoal briquettes in Mali as summarized in table 1 but very good market sales for coal dust briquettes in Kenya. In general, depending on the raw material and the binders used in the production, charcoal briquettes may show higher ash contents and different burning characteristics when compared to normal charcoal. This fact might be important for the success of charcoal briquettes and user acceptance must be investigated before entering a market.
Table 1: Summary of results acceptability tests:
Summary of results acceptability tests
In recent years, more and more efforts in research and introduction of gasifier stoves for households can be observed. In general, the gasification process places higher quality demands on the solid fuel than does combustion. There are a number of important potential advantages of using briquettes instead of for example chipped wood for gasification: the briquettes are drier, increasing the efficiency of the process and increasing the calorific value of the produced gas; the bulk density is higher, increasing the residence time in the gasifier and the gas conversion rate and, finally, the size of the briquettes can be chosen to fit together with the size of the gasifier and the gasifier grate. In general it appears that briquettes can be used to provide a consistent feedstock to most gasification systems and thus show advantages on a market where gasifier stoves are used in households.
- “Micro-gasification: Cooking with gas from biomass” by Christa Roth (2011)
The manual provides a detailed description of the gasification process in household stoves and the application of briquettes in these stoves.
Micro Gasification Cooking with gas from biomass.pdf
Markets for Biomass Briquettes
All hereby mentioned appliances (wood, charcoal, gasifier stoves) for briquettes are mostly supposed to target two main market segments:
- The mass domestic market, consisting of normal households that use wood or charcoal as daily cooking.
- Business and institutional consumers. This segment includes large consumers such as restaurants, hotels, institutes etc.;
Both of these market segments are driven by consumer decisions which are normally based on price comparisons between biomass briquettes and traditional solid fuels. But not always the price seems to be the only or crucial point for a consumer decision to buy biomass briquettes. This fact can easily be observed when for example comparing solid fuel prices in a German hardware shop: even if prices per energy content are higher, than for example the price for lignite, biomass briquettes are well sold.
Table 2: comparison of solid fuel prices in Germany
Comparison of solid fuel prices in Germany
The observation of the willingness to pay a higher price for briquettes are not restricted to industrial countries, whereas examples of niche markets for higher priced briquettes can be found also in developing countries. These might be luxury hotels who want to convey the impression of a sustainable business approach to their clients.
Another example is the marketing strategy of the company Chardust Ltd. in Kenya which is addressing three market segments, supplying them with different charcoal briquettes, as follows:
- The business and institutional market is served by lower grade briquettes, marketed as Vendors Waste Briquettes and sold in large bags. These briquettes are made as cheaply as possible in bulk from charcoal dust (fines) with some contamination of soil (clay). No binder is added. The high ash content (due to the clay) cause the briquettes to burn slowly, rendering them particularly for slow-release space heating at night time;
- The mass domestic market is served by regular grade briquettes, made in roller presses and sold in 4 kg bags. As feedstock screened charcoal waste is used, with minimum contamination. Gum Arabic is used as binder. Briquettes are sold by Chardust Ltd. at prices below the urban wholesale price of charcoal.
- Premium grade briquettes targeted at the urban middle class are labelled as Fireballs and sold in fancy packaging in supermarkets. These are made in pan agglomerators from charcoal lumps and a liquid binder (a blend of molasses, corn starch or gum Arabic). This market segment is less price sensitive and fireball briquettes are more expensive than lump charcoal.
Figure 1: marketing example of briquettes in Kenya
Marketing example of briquettes in Kenya
Table 1: Price comparison of different briquettes produced by chardust in Kenya
Price comparison of different briquettes produced by chardust in Kenya
The experiences of Chardust Ltd suggest that in general charcoal dust briquettes have to compete directly on price with wood charcoal. As a result, the (semi-)industrial production of charcoal dust briquettes can only be viable in African countries where charcoal is relatively expensive. Chardust Ltd. roughly calculates that the minimum wholesale prices would have to be some $200 per ton (for packaged charcoal). This rules out many African countries as candidate manufacturing sites. On the other hand in areas with high charcoal prices and sufficient charcoal dust there is a good potential for charcoal dust briquetting. Charcoal briquettes that are higher priced but attractively packaged may still find some customers e.g. those willing to pay more for a product that is produced in a sustainable manner. Such environmentally and socially conscious buyers may include individuals as well as institutions (for the latter it may be a part of their company’s policy).
Innovative packaging is one example of smart marketing of briquettes but for sure not the only one. Depending on the clients to address different approaches could be used.
A list of marketing tools to support the sales of briquettes in developing countries is suggested by Legacy Foundation:
- Buyers of large quantities can receive discounts or a gift.
- Some fuel briquettes can be exchanged for the delivery of raw materials.
- Pro-environmental conservationists can be included in marketing briquettes.
- Conducting open air cooking demonstrations (e.g. in market centres)
- Participating in shows and exhibitions
To keep in mind!
- Briquettes are consumption goods that means consumers must trust in their reliable availability.
- Briquettes are also a competitive good to traditional solid fuels. The price per unit of energy competes with the range of other traditional fuels.
- In general, briquettes can easily substitute wood in traditional cooking appliances.
- When using carbonized briquettes for use in traditional charcoal stoves, the consumer acceptance may play a crucial role and should be checked before starting production.
- Briquettes and pellets show big advantages when used in gasifier stoves.
- The characteristics of briquettes and their marketing should be adapted to the targeted market: domestic use, business or institutional market or premium consumers.
Key Questions for a Successful Briquetting
Why to briquette?
- Why do you want to briquette?
- Does briquetting lead to any improvement of your raw material in terms of energy content, fuel or handling characteristics?
- Is densification the right technology to reach your aims of improving a fuel?
- Do you want to create a new fuel competing with traditional fuels?
The Raw Material
- To which kind of raw material do you have access?
- Are there any practical experiences with briquetting of this material or do you need to invest in research?
- Do you base your briquette production on “real” residues as raw material or may the use of the raw material compete with other uses of some value?
- Does the quantity of the raw material enable an economic production?
- Can you guarantee the access to the raw material?
- Do you need to organize the transport and storage of the raw material?
- Which total production output do you aim for?
- To which kind of production technologies do you have access?
- Is there any briquetting plant which fits to your quantity of production?
- Do you need to consider any pretreatments of the raw material and therefore invest in further machines?
- Can you calculate your foreseen capital and operational costs?
- Who will be your clients?
- Do briquettes fit to their fuel requirements and to the cooking appliances?
- Do you have access to the fuel market or do you need to build up new selling structures?
- Does the price of your briquettes compete with traditional fuels?
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 http://www.wikihow.com/Sell-a-Product
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Eriksson, S. and Prior, M. (1990): The briquetting of agricultural wastes for fuel, FAO Environment and Energy Paper 11, FAO of the UN, Rome, 1990
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 NL Agency (2013): Charcoal Production from Alternative Feedstocks; final version 2013
- ↑ http://www.chardust.com/briquettes/briquettes/
- ↑ Legacy Foundation: a trainer’s guide for making fuel briquettes; http://www.villagevolunteers.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Fuel-Briquettes-Guide.pdf
This article is part of the Biomass Briquettes - Production and Marketing and belongs to the GIZ HERA Cooking Energy Compendium.