Product description

SGFE’s char-briquettes are produced from biomass waste, are meant to represent an alternative to traditional charcoal in Cambodia and are mostly used for cooking purposes.

SGFE’s briquettes comply with EU NF 1860-2, the international standard for charcoal briquettes and are an overall better quality product compared to the traditional charcoal.

  • Longer burning time: the char-briquettes have a higher fixed carbon content and are more dense, which makes them burn for up to 5 hours, where the traditional wood charcoal burns only 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • Less smoke: the char-briquettes produce almost no smoke when burned, because of its high efficient and complete combustion. This reduces black carbon and SLCP emissions, resulting in a healthier product.
  • Less sparks: because of its high density and uniform composition, char-briquettes produce almost no sparks, which represent a hazard for domestic fires and therefore resulting in a safer product.
  • Practical to use: the char-briquettes come already in a small and practical shape, with no need to be cut and perfectly adaptable to different cookstoves.

Where the product/service is being used

SGFE’s char-briquettes are sold and used mainly in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.

The Problems it attempts to solve or address

Cambodia is facing both, a problem of massive deforestation (0.8% per year) and a high poverty rate (categorized as one of the poorest countries in the world). Solid biomass amounts up to 84% of domestic cooking fuels, mainly used in the forms of wood and charcoal, coming from unsustainable sourcing, and causing all problems related to cooking with solid fuel (health and safety hazards). The high demand for biomass fuels, contributes to endanger Cambodian forests. Yet, the current charcoal consumption, estimated at 200,000 tons per year is expected to triple in the next 20 years.

Design Approach

The aim was to develop a sustainable alternative cooking fuel to charcoal.

Design objectives:

  • utilization of biomass waste as raw material, hence reducing pressure on natural forests
  • clean and efficient charring technology
  • industrial and efficient production process, leveraging economies of scale to reduce production costs
  • produce a better quality product compared to the traditional charcoal, with reduced health and safety hazards for the end-user

Technology Used

To char the biomass SGFE uses Top Lit Up Draught (TLUD) kilns. The technology derives from improved clean gasifier cookstoves. The cookstove technology was scaled-up and transformed into efficient and clean biomass charring kilns, which enable an almost continuous charring process (the char doesn’t need to cool down, but is unloaded while still glowing from the bottom of the kilns) and which burn all synthesis gases produced during the pyrolysis.

Furthermore, the heat produced during the charring process is recycled, being collected and reused to dry the char-briquettes in innovative drying tunnels, making the entire process energy efficient.

Business Model

The raw materials supplied to produce SGFE’s char-briquettes are:

  • Char-residues collected from factories which burn wood to produce heat or electricity and otherwise throw away the ashes, which still contain combustible char-residues.
  • Empty coconut shells collected in markets around Phnom Penh.

The raw materials are being delivered directly at SGFE’s factory and then processed into char-briquettes.

Finally the char-briquettes are sold at the same price as traditional charcoal in Cambodia. About 60% of SGFE’s production is distributed directly by SGFE’s sales force, delivering the product to restaurants and retail shops, while the other 40% is sold to distributors, which purchase the product at the factory and then do the distribution themselves (in markets and door-to-door).

SGFE has elaborated a competitive pricing strategy, which addresses different customers’ needs and enables SGFE to simplify sales, maintaining the same level of profitability.

  • Full price: including delivery service, sold mainly to restaurants.
  • Slightly discounted price: sales above 300kg, including delivery service, sold usually to retail shops.
  • More discounted price: at the factory, sales above 1 tonne; sold to distributors.


Through the clean production and sales of its char-briquettes, SGFE substitutes the traditional charcoal deriving from illegal logging, and therefore reduces deforestation and abates CO2 emissions. Up to date, SGFE has produced and sold over 700 tonnes of its char-briquettes, leading to an estimated saving of almost 5,000 tonnes of wood, which was not cut in Cambodia’s forests for traditional charcoal production.

At the same time, SGFE’s provides its final customer with a better quality, healthier and safer product (~1,200 households).

Lessons Learned

The biggest problem we have faced initially was keeping the production costs low enough to make the product competitive on the market. The production process was too small and artisanal and needed to be up-scaled. We have introduced new machines and production management techniques to be able to leverage economies of scale.

In addition, the product was initially not accepted by the market, being Cambodian users very traditional regarding their cooking fuel. A marketing campaign with free samples and the consequent word to mouth helped the product become better known and finally today widely recognized as a better quality cooking fuel.

Contact details

Name: Carlo Figà Talamanca
Position: CEO of Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise (SGFE)
Address: Phlove Lom, Phoum Russey, Sangkat Stueng Meanchey, Khan Meanchey, Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA
Tel: +855-(0)97-8159256