ENERGY FROM BABAÇU – MAKING BABASSU FRIENDLY
Babaçu (or Babassu) is a particular kind of palm tree which grows extensively in north-east Brazil. Babaçu is not cultivated, it is an "invasive" plant and ends up being a problem for the farmers and native people of the region, since babaçu trees grow indiscriminately and harm the pastures and the agricultural areas. By legal determination, since it is a native plant, it cannot be cut and therefore the local populations end up living with this problem. The babaçu trees are concentrated in one of the poorest regions of Brazil (in the states of Maranhão, Piauí, Tocantins and Pará); the fruits of those trees (also called babaçu), when they are ripe they fall and are collected by women and children of the local villages. Although not cultivated, the fruits have a great economic participation and represent an important source of income for the families of the rural communities of those regions. The fruits collected are opened, in very unhealthy conditions (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j540QtGaapM or https://www.youtube.com/544d9e5f-2e7f-4f04-982d-90b4b5ee223c) by the so-called "nut breakers", which break the nuts with a wooden stick. The nut, duly ground and processed with hot water, allows the extraction of babaçu oil, with a characteristic hazelnut aroma and used in traditional regional dishes. The residual oil is used for making soap, cosmetics, margarine, special fats. The mesocarp of the chestnut, crushed, produces a flour rich in starch, and the endocarp produces the charcoal. One of the great problems of the processing of the babaçu fruits, as it is today, is the residues produced by the breaking of the fruits, in the shape of shells, which have no commercial value and are discarded in nature, forming large volumes of useless material. This material ends up rotting, with risk of contamination of streams and rivers of the region. Moreover, occasionally the discarded material, very dry and due to high ambient temperatures, can ignite, burning with serious damages to the atmosphere due to the high content of solid particles emitted, besides the CO2 resulting from the burning. The feasibility of implementing business models in that region of Brazil is compromised by logistical and infrastructure difficulties. Take advantage of the available natural resources, removing as much value-added products as possible and exploiting the potential of residual biomass of babassu processing can be a facilitator of the social and economic development of the small communities. The use of charcoal from that abundant biomass residues represents a competitive differential by storing energy in the form of carbon. Which can be used for the generation of electricity at low cost, essential for local communities. The excess of biomass gasification (the called biochar) can be activated by chemical processes, generating a product of very high added value (activated carbon), that can be sold or even used in intermediate stages of the main processing, serving as an adsorbent in purification processes of the oils produced in the processing of babaçu. The basic concept of this project is the gasification of babaçu waste, carbonizing it for the production of synthesis gas. The main focus of the project is to enable small communities to install a more efficient processing system that allows real use of babaçu nuts in better working conditions, ensuring income and additional benefits (such as the generation of electricity) for small communities in a needy region. Currently the communities in the region do not have access to the national grid and therefore all electricity used is generated by small diesel engines, with the consequent limitation in terms of power generated in addition to the many environmental problems arising from the transportation and use of diesel oil in that region, much near the Amazon.
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