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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Biochar from cookstoves reduces greenhouse gas emissions from smallholder farms in Africa

Sundberg, Cecilia; Karltun, Erik; Gitau, James K.; Katterer, Thomas; Kimutai, Geoffrey M.; Mahmoud, Yahia; Njenga, Mary; Nyberg, Gert; de Nowina, Kristina Roing; Roobroeck, Dries; Sieber, Petra


Biochar produced in cookstoves has the potential to contribute to negative carbon emissions through sequestration of biomass carbon while also providing other benefits for sustainable development, including provision of clean renewable energy and increased yields in tropical agriculture. The aim of the reported research was to estimate effects on food production, household energy access and life cycle climate impact from introduction of biochar-producing cookstoves on smallholder farms in Kenya. Participatory research on biochar production and use was undertaken with 150 Kenyan smallholder farming households. Gasifier cookstove functionality, fuel efficiency and emissions were measured, as well as biochar effects on agricultural yields after application to soil. Cookstoves provided benefits through reduced smoke, fuel wood savings and char production, but challenges were found related to labour for fuel preparation, lighting and refilling. On-farm trials with varying rates of biochar inputs, in combination with and without mineral fertilizers, have led to a sustained increase of maize yields following one-time application. The climate impact in a life cycle perspective was considerably lower for the system with cookstove production of biochar and use of biochar in agriculture than for current cooking practices. Climate benefits from biochar production and use are thus possible on smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa, through reduced use of biomass in cooking, reduced emissions of products of incomplete combustion and sequestration of stable biochar carbon in soils. Biochar-producing cookstoves can be implemented as a climate change mitigation method in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Successful implementation will require changes in cooking systems including fuel supply, as well as farming systems, which, in turn, requires an understanding of local socio-cultural conditions, including power relations and gender aspects.


Biochar-producing gasifier stove; Bioenergy; Greenhouse gas; Woodfuel; Life cycle assessment

Published in

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change
2020, Volume: 25, number: 6, pages: 953-967
Publisher: SPRINGER