South African Charcoal

Problem Statement:

South Africa is facing many ecological issues as a result of their use of trees. We will be focusing on one issue that would help slow their destruction of their forests, alternative energy use. A large amount of South Africa uses charcoal as a source of energy and heat. This charcoal is typically made from hardwoods harvested in the country. And while there is another, more abundant way to produce their charcoal, South Africa is instead heading toward renewable energy.

Political map of South Africa

South African Demographics

Population: 54,300,704

Race and Ethnicity:

Black African 80.2%
White 8.4%
Mixed Race 8.8%
Indian/Asian 2.5%

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 28.34% (male 7,718,511/female 7,667,830)
15-24 years: 18.07% (male 4,865,807/female 4,943,707)
25-54 years: 41.44% (male 11,372,944/female 11,130,874)
55-64 years: 6.59% (male 1,662,874/female 1,915,908)
65 years and over: 5.57% (male 1,269,551/female 1,752,698) (2016 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.99%

Total Fertility Rate: 2.31 Children/Woman

South African Energy:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 2.27.50 PM.png
South Africa/United States Time vs. CO2 Per Capita

Electricity Production:

235 Billion kWh

Electricity Consumption:

212 Billion kWh

Electricity Exports:

14 Billion kWh

Electricity Imports:

11 Billion kWh

Electricity – from nuclear fuels:

4.4% of total installed capacity (2013 est.)

Electricity – from hydroelectric plants:

4.5% of total installed capacity (2013 est.)

Electricity – from other renewable sources:

0.7% of total installed capacity (2013 est.)

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Natural gas – production:

950 million cu m (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 64

Natural gas – consumption:

4.75 billion cu m (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 59

Natural gas – exports:

0 cu m (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 94

Natural gas – imports

3.8 billion cu m (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 37

Natural gas – proved reserves

15.01 billion cu m (1 January 2012 es)
country comparison to the world: 77

Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy:

482 million Mt (2013 est.)

What is Charcoal and How is it Made?

Charcoal is a porous, black material that is burned for its heat properties. Charcoal is made through the anaerobic burning of wood remove water, methane, hydrogen and tar from the material. In South America, this is typically done using hardwood, with a devastating consequence. But a more recent production method of charcoal uses the leaves of Eucalyptus trees that are abundant there. By using the leaves that have naturally fallen, the trees are not harmed and no trees are cut down.

Benefits of Charcoal

  1. Burns longer than wood

  2. Easier to transport/easily available

  3. Can be stored for long periods of time without degrading its ability to burn efficiently

Main Issues with Charcoal

  1. Deforestation

    1. Areas that have been deforested (as opposed to degraded) cannot regenerate themselves- the ecology of the area is irreparably damaged.
    2. It’s estimated that parts of South Africa could completely deplete their forests by 2020
  2. Respiratory Diseases

    1. WHO estimates that smoke pollution kills up to 4.3 million people each year.

Renewable Alternatives to Charcoal

wind turbines.jpg

  • Wind Power

    • The Cookhouse Wind Farm in South Africa is currently the largest energy producing wind farm in Africa. It generates about 138MW of clean power from 11 wind turbines
    • Economic benefit: wind energy costs about 1/2 as much as new coal projects (~$0.05/kWh)

solar farm.jpg

  • Solar Power

    • De Aar, South Africa houses the largest solar farm in the entire southern hemisphere
    • it is a 175 Megawatt facility that spreads over 400 hectares
    • Costs 40% less than coal


g CO2 emitted by Charcoal
110 gCO2/MJ * 3.6 MJ/kWh = 396 gCO2/kWh = .396 kgCO2 * 212 Billion kWh consumed = 8.4×1010 kgCO2 emitted
g CO2 emitted by a more efficient source (natural gas)
51 gCO2 * 3.6 MJ/kWh = 183.6 gCO2/kWh = .1836 kgCO2 * 212 Billion kWh consumed = 3.89×1010 kgCO2 emitted (almost ½ theCO2emissions of charcoal!)


While curbing the use of charcoal would greatly help stop some of the negative effects occurring in South Africa, it is not necessarily the final solution, as it will negatively impact the economy. South Africa must continue to transition toward making progress in the direction of renewable energies. The two of these solutions used together would produce the best, most effective way to move South Africa to using better energy alternatives and to a cleaner future.

Team Member Biographies:


Kyle Denis

5th year architecture major from coastal Los Angeles. Wide array of interests including hockey, football, rock climbing, camping (and all around adventuring), design, video games, and computer tinkering. Looking forward to working in a design field anywhere from architecture to visual effects.


Lily Marks

4th year Business Administration major with a concentration in accounting from San Francisco. Interests include hiking, tennis, and basically any other outdoor activities. Excited to learn more about making a positive impact on the environment.


Kyle Mather

2nd year Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies major concentrating in Political Science and Civil Engineering with a minor in Psychology. I am from San Diego, California and I’ve traveled to 10 countries in the last two years. I really like RnB. I am kind of mad about the Chargers leaving San Diego, but also kind of happy because they always find a way to lose. Looking forward to March Madness and Spring Quarter.


Sarah Miller

3rd year: Business Administration. Just a transfer student from the east bay. Really enjoys drawing and learning more about life.
Will be working towards making a positive impact on the community/environment

Photo on 3-17-17 at 4.46 PM.jpg

Grant Sokolowski

1st year Business Administration major from San Diego. interested in the environment and renewable energy resources.


The World Factbook
Unpacking the Evidence on Firewood and Charcoal inAfrica
Charcoal: A Boom for Africa That May Be Killing It

It seems that half the renewable electricity is from nuclear, which is about 5% of their electricity, so 90% of their electricity is from fossil fuels? What’s the mix of coal / NG?

So, please elaborate on your solutions. What is this Eucalyptus leaf burning charcoal like? How do you do it? How do you make the briquettes? Is it like what Amy Smith started doing in Haiti with the MIT team?