When the local authorities decided to build the Diama dam on the Senegal River in 1986, no one could have imagined how that would disrupt the ecosystem and affect the livelihood of local communities. The dam blocked the seawater from going back up. When the seawater that blocked invasive species stopped being a barrier, Typha started spreading. This fast-growing invasive reed, Typha australis, invaded the farmlands and the fishing areas, suffocating the biodiversity of the region and preventing access to river resources.

The fish started hiding around its stems so it became impossible to fish. The more you’d cut it down, the faster it seemed to grow. The lands that were cleared for farming would be reinvaded after only six months. However, instead of becoming desperate, the locals united to see the obstacle as a favorable circumstance.

GRET organization worked on developing technology that assists in transforming this plant into renewable biofuel. Bio coal represents an effective way to use renewable resources. The plant is cut, dried, carbonized, and compressed into a cylindric briquette with a substantial calorific value that can be sold for a price competitive to that of charcoal. The product emits a lot less smoke than firewood because it has already been carbonized.

GRET employs locals and trains them to be able to continue running the business after the organization’s leaders leave Senegal. As previously mentioned, typha regrows in six month’s time, which allows for the invasive species to be used as a renewable resource and exploited for many years to come. Locals, predominantly women, earn an additional income by producing briquettes. The plant’s pressure on the ecosystems is alleviated, at least to some extent.

Compared to coal, typha bio coal produces a lot less smoke, odour, and ashes, it lights quickly, and burns long. However, the cooperatives are still working on promoting the product and gaining a larger percentage of the market.

This video is one of the episodes in the documentary series WATT IF – Energies for climate created by Olivier, makesense reporter, in partnership with EDF.

makesense is a global organization that inspires and empowers citizens, entrepreneurs, and organizations to build an inclusive and sustainable society together. Energies for Climate is a global campaign aiming to accelerate the transition towards low-carbon and accessible energy for everyone.

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