Green technology as driving force for local agriculture
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We visited Mr. Dinh Quy's tea factory on a sweltering day in June. Surrounded by the scent of freshly-brewed tea, Quy wiped the sweat off his brow as he put compressed sawdust into the biomass gasification stove. "Our cooperative used to use firewood to process tea. The burning fire and the high temperature, together with a lot of smoke and dust, made it debilitating for workers."
Tran Nam Clean Tea Cooperative (Dai Tu district, Thai Nguyen province) has been operating since 2019 with an annual revenue of around three billion VND from processing and selling clean tea. The owner, Mr. Quy, is always nervous about rising fuel prices. "Firewood is cheap, but it needs to be refilled every 10 minutes. The clouds of smoke from burning firewood imbue the tea and deprive workers of breathable air. Gas and electricity are cleaner, but they cost more. Therefore, we can only afford them for certain stages, such as drying and flavouring tea."
Mr. Quy (second from the right) discussed with the EU delegation the quality of the new batch of tea
Mr. Quy and many other tea-processing cooperatives found a solution on a visit to a tea dryer using biomass gasification technology in Dinh Hoa district. This is supported by the "Biomass Gasification Technology – Sustainable Energy Solution for Agri-Food Processing and Waste Management in Rural Areas of Vietnam" (BEST) project. Biomass gasification (VCBG) burns biologically-derived materials (such as wood chip, hashish, sawdust, and agricultural waste) without oxygen to produce heat-generating syngas. This process produces hardly any smoke. "The cooperative in Dinh Hoa strongly recommended this technology since it solved all their existing problems! After further discussion with the project's experts, I was completely reassured and decided to give it a try", Mr. Quy enthusiastically recalled.
Tea brewed with VCBG stove is not smoky, or soot and has better quality
Mr. Quy's cooperative has received support from the project. This included VCBG equipment, training on its operation, technology transfer, on-site technical assistance, and consultation right from the start. Having used VCBG for six months since the end of 2021, Mr. Quy has noticed a significant difference. This led him to convert his two wood stoves to VCBG stoves without hesitation. "The smoke is clear and the factory is clean. Most importantly, the material for fuel comes from agricultural and forestry by-products such as discarded branches and leaves, wood chip, or corn cob. These are cheap and readily available, greatly reducing production costs." Thanks to VCBG technology, the gas and electricity bills of Tran Nam Cooperative have fallen by 15 million VND per month. As a result, their profits have increased.
As a midland and mountainous region with various forestry-product processing facilities, Thai Nguyen has a large "excess" of agricultural and forestry by-products. However, most of these are thrown away or burned, causing environmental waste and pollution.
Mr. Nguyen Hung Cuong, BEST Project Manager at Oxfam in Vietnam, said: "Supporting cooperatives and micro and small enterprises in transitioning to greener, cleaner, and more sustainable production has always been our key focus. Biomass as a source of fuel, though large in quantity, remains untapped. Using biomass in VCBG technology not only contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and effective waste management but also promotes the local circular economy model. The project helps businesses to convert to VCBG technology through building and operating a tripartite ecosystem of biomass suppliers, mechanics, and agri-processing micro and small enterprises."
The raw materials for the VCBG stove are wood chips, sawdust, hash pieces, tablets, etc, which are cheap and easy to find.
This tripartite ecosystem is gradually being worked out with some initial successes.
Mr. Do Minh Ngoc, the owner of a peeled board factory in Dai Tu district, Thai Nguyen province, which has received a biomass chopper from the project, said that the shredded biomass of his business is being sold at 800 VND/kg. This is a very competitive price compared to the 3,000 VND for one kg of pellets. Mr. Ngoc said that the huge amount of local biomass will bring great potential to suppliers for businesses using VCBG.
Biomass is an abundant source of locally available raw materials
Meanwhile, for Mr. Xuan Tuyen, owner of a mechanical facility in Phu Luong district, Thai Nguyen province, his first encounter with this "simple" technology made him wonder if it could reach the required temperature or meet the stages of tea processing. "However, after selling VCBG equipment for a while, I’ve heard all good things. The heat level is more stable and the tea tastes more delicious without being smoky. The workers do not have to refill firewood at the scorching door, while their hands are free for other chores." The total revenue of Mr. Tuyen's mechanical establishment has also increased by several million dong thanks to the sale of VCBG stoves.
Inside the VCBG-equipped workshop of Hong Thang mechanical facility
When asked about his future plans, Mr. Xuan Tuyen replied that he will continue to research and invent other equipment using the core VCBG technology to expand his business. "I’m developing a stove for a noodle shop so they can stop using coal and gas."
As for Mr. Quy, he hopes that more and more cooperatives in the region will learn about and use this "good and practical" technology. This will reduce the price of products, increase revenues, and protect the environment. "In order to realise that vision, services related to biomass supply must be continuous and available. Then, businesses will feel confident investing in the equipment and expanding production."
These initial successes are gradually confirming that VCBG technology not only utilizes rural waste as a smokeless and environmentally-friendly fuel but also solves problems for many businesses by generating more jobs for suppliers of biomass and mechanical equipment.