Desec-OO produces sustainable charcoal with vegetable waste

In 2020, Filip Maenhout, a Belgian who lived in Cameroon for many years, founded DESEC-OO. The abbreviation stands for 'Development Social Enterprise Cameroon - Organic Output'. A mouthful, but the intention is clear: produce ecological charcoal from organic waste.

Kill two birds with one stone

The idea of producing biochar had been growing in Filip's head for a while. "Firewood and charcoal are the main sources of energy for families in northern Cameroon. But both are becoming more expensive and less accessible - and that combined with an ever-increasing demand. Even to the extent that families can no longer afford firewood and charcoal."

In addition, the ecological factor also plays a role. "The high prices of firewood and charcoal encourage illegal logging. For biochar, no trees need to be cut down. And when families cook with biochar, no CO2 is released. The combination of sustainability and the lower price mean that biochar is in high demand among families."

Social aspect is part of DNA

Filip deliberately chose to involve vulnerable youth and families in DESEC-OO.

"I have more than 25 years of experience in rural land development - and the poverty there still touches me. But at the same time, I also see the potential and the needs of the people. So it was an obvious decision to turn DESEC-OO into a social project as well. It is part of our DNA."

Through the SusTech4Africa competition, Filip came into contact with OVO. "A fantastic experience. Not only did we get a loan of 10,000 euros to co-finance the purchase of a first oven and our basic equipment. We could also count on technical support: from coaching sessions via video conference on pitching to strategic advice on our business plan. We are therefore sincerely grateful to OVO for their hard work and dedication."

Ambitious dreams for the future

Asked about the ambitions of Filip and his team, they sound determined.

"In the coming years, we want to capture more than 50% of the market share in the wood energy sector, and this in the three northern regions of Cameroon. We want to become and remain the market leader. With OVO, we have already found a partner who can help us achieve that ambition."

The production of biochar in 4 steps
  1. The plant waste - twigs and bark, leaves and corn cobs, sawdust, wood chips, straw, household waste ... - is collected. Then it is sorted and dried in the sun until the humidity is less than 5%.
  2. The treated biomass is placed in capsules and then placed in an oven of a gas stove. As the biomass is exposed to extreme heat in an oxygen-poor place, it carbonizes to charcoal.
  3. After the biochar cools, it is crushed and mixed with water and binders such as starch to form a paste. In this way, a better composition of charcoal is obtained.
  4. Finally, the paste is pressed into charcoal briquettes or pellets, weighed and packed.