Sustainable Development in Northern India
A week or so after arriving in Naddi, Himachal Pradesh, I finally figured out why the project I was working on was called alternative energy rather than renewable energy. Conventional renewable energy is far too expensive and often not even useful or needed in certain regions of the world, where optimum practices are seldom within reach and one must make do with the resources at hand. After seeing the SWASH Team (waste management) responsible for the Interns’ House in Naddi disposing of unwanted newspapers and soft cardboard by simply burning it, I took up the challenge to try and come up with something to do with all this newspaper.
In Himachal Pradesh, plastic bags are prohibited and most of the groceries are packed in newspaper bags. The newspaper is then burnt on the side of the roads, used to start up the fires for domestic cooking or simply thrown out in the forest. This results in a great deal of unwanted newspaper to be collected, and beyond that, a lot of native forest to be saved!
After doing some research on the internet, I discovered that compressing newspaper was quite an easy technique called briquetting, consisting of three main stages: making paper pulp (mixing newspaper with water), compressing and drying.
At first, I tested the “silicon gun” technology, using it for the first two batches of briquettes. It worked ok, although the handle was not strong enough for the pressure needed to properly compress newspaper pulp. For the third batch I started to use only my hand strength, which produced much better results.
The weather up in our lovely mountains, at this time of the year, is not propitious for the drying process, although after waiting for a week or so the briquettes were dry enough to give it a try in the stove.
However, since I am working with alternative energies, I did not want to just burn the briquettes without a purpose. So when thinking for options, several projects came together: first, a wood stove project starting up in Naddi to deal with health issues related to open fire domestic cooking; then, the briquettes project; and finally, the “how to save the French interns without access to their beloved bakeries” project. So, after finding an old wood stove which fell into disuse on the top floor of the Dal Lake interns’ house (about 5 minutes’ walk from Naddi) my fellow French comrade Thomas came to Naddi with the stove and a homemade loaf of bread, ready to be baked.
After a few trials to start up the fire (quite a technique), we managed to get it going. The wood stove we used for this experiment was made for cooking with a pan, so it had a hole on the top that we covered with a pan so the heat could be used in the stove instead of the air. We used this pan later on to cook an omelet.
After 20 or 30 minutes, the bread was ready. We had some technical issues with the design of the stove, which should be fixed if an oven needs to be integrated in the model (for the wood stove project). Mainly, the food should not be in direct contact with the flames and the smoke (it gave the bread a distinctive barbecue taste).
The briquette project is work in progress for the moment; an alternative design to allow for a speedier cooking time is being analised and putting to the test. Also, different materials are currently being tried out to be mixed with newspaper, such as wood scraps and sawdust.
Justin Casimir, France
Alternative Energy Project Manager