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The urgent need to protect our forest, to mitigate health hazards faced by the people from the use of firewood for cooking and to find an effective means of managing agro wastes has prompted a research on improving the properties of coal briquette using spear grass (Imperata cylindrica) and elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). In the research, proximate analysis and the elemental composition of the plant materials were carried out alongside with a coal sample. Briquettes of different composition were produced by blending the plant materials with the coal at various concentrations: 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50% and 100%. The physical, mechanical and combustion properties of the briquettes were compared. It was found that the ignition, burning rate and reduction in smoke emission showed improvement with increase in biomass concentration. Compressive strength and cooking efficiency - water boiling time and specific fuel consumption showed initial improvement and rendered to break with briquette containing biomass concentration of 50% for elephant grass briquette. For spear grass, the compressive grass was at maximum at biomass concentration of 30%.
1.1 Background of the Study
Nigeria, like other sub-Saharan countries, has faced forest degradation problems due to combination of factors. Some of the factors are clearing of land for agricultural and industrialization purposes, over grazing, bush fires, drought, over exploitation, ever- increasing deforestation along with the increased in the consumption of fuel wood etc.
About 80% of Nigerians live in the rural or semi-urban areas and they depend solely on fuel wood for their energy needs. Fuel wood accounts for about 37% of the total energy demand of the country. Investigations showed that out of the total wood demand from the forest, 90% goes to fuel wood. Presently, Nigeria reportedly consumes about 43 x 109 kg of fuel wood annually  and it will be far more than this by the end of 2010 if the present trend continues . However, it is very obvious that reduction in the use of fuel wood will drastically reduce the pressure mounted on the forest in search of wood.
Meanwhile, it was reported that the total forest cover of Nigeria is still less than 10% of the land area, which is far below the 25% recommended by the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP)
. Therefore, it is imperative that concerted efforts are needed to address this situation.
Furthermore, in the recent years, global warming has become an international concern. Global warming is caused by green house gasses which carbon dioxide is among the major contributors. It was shown that increased emission of CO2 in the atmosphere in the recent time has exacerbated the global warming . Part of the reasons for this can be explained from the fact that the forest resources which act as major absorbers of CO2 have been drastically reduced owing to the fact that the rate of deforestation is higher than the afforestation effort in the country.
Apart from environmental effects, the use of fuel wood for cooking has health implications especially on women and children who are disproportionately exposed to the smoke. Women in rural areas frequently with young children carried on their backs or staying around them, spend one to six hours each day cooking with fuel wood. In some areas, the exposure is even higher especially when the cooking is done in an unventilated place or where fuel wood is used for heating of rooms. Generally, biomass smoke contains a large number of pollutants which at varying concentrations pose substantial risk to human health. Among hundreds of the pollutants and irritants are particulate matters, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and carcinogens such as benzo[α]pyrene, 1,2–butadiene and benzene . Studies showed that indoor air pollution levels from combustion of bio fuels in Africa are extremely high, and it is often many times above the
standard set by US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) for ambient level of these pollutants .
Also, consistent evidence revealed that exposure to biomass smoke increases the risk of a range of common diseases both in children and in adults. The smoke causes acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) particularly pneumonia in children [6, 7]. Among the women, it causes chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) (Progressive and incompletely reversible air ways obstruction) [8,9]. Eyes irritation (sore, red eyes, tears) from the smoke is also a common experience in the use of fuel wood. A hospital based case – control studies proved that a person exposed to smoke of biomass has high risk of cataracts disease . This evidence was further substantiated by an experiment carried out on animals which showed that biomass smoke is capable of damaging eye lens .
In the whole, it was summed up that the total deaths attributed to the use of fuel wood in Nigeria are about 79,000. Also nearly 45% of the national burden diseases are related to solid fuel use, according to a WHO Survey . Again, combustion of raw coal has equally been reported to have detrimental effects on both environments and the health of the people. Among other effects, inhalation of coal smoke increases the risk of lung cancer .
Frankly speaking, transition to electricity or gas would have been the healthiest solution to these problems but the likelihood of a complete
transition in the poorer urban and rural communities in the near future is minimal. Therefore it is pertinent that other intervention measures especially ones recommended by WHO  should be adopted to mitigate these health risks to the lowest possible level and equally to relieve the forest resources from pressure mounted on it.
Fortunately, researches have shown that a cleaner, affordable fuel source which is a substitute to fuel wood can be produced by blending biomass (agricultural residues and wastes) with coal. Nigeria has large coal deposit which has remained untapped since 1950’s, following the discovery of petroleum in the country. Also, millions of tonnes of agricultural wastes are generated in Nigeria annually. But it is unfortunate that farmers still practise “slash–and-burn” agriculture. These agricultural wastes they encounter during clearing of land for farming or during processing of agricultural produce are usually burnt off. By this practice, not only that the useful raw materials are wasted, it further pollutes the environment and reduces soil fertility.
Fire affects soil below ground biodiversity, geomorphic process, and volatilizes large amount of nutrients and carbon accumulated in the soil organic matter . Furthermore, during process of burning of agricultural wastes on the field, if it is not properly controlled, it can inadvertently lead to bush fire, destroying further the forest which has suffered much from the hand of wood seekers.
Forest fire is one of the severe environmental problems in Nigeria and every year various forest types are burnt as a result of fire set up deliberately or inadvertently through careless or uncared acts. Forest fire destroys the fresh saplings, seedlings and arrest regeneration of native species .
However, these health hazard faced by people from the use of fuel wood, along with the agricultural wastes management and reduction of pressure mounted on the forest can be mitigated if Nigeria will switch over to production and utilization of bio-coal briquette; a cleaner and environmental friendly fuel wood substitute made from agricultural wastes and coal. Moreover, this will offer a good potential for utilization of a large coal reserve in Nigeria for economic diversification and employment generation through bio-coal briquette related SMEs.
1.2 Literature Review
1.2.1 Briquetting Process
Briquetting is a mechanical compaction process for increasing the density of bulky materials. This process is used for forming fine particles into a designed shape. It can be regarded as a waste control measure in the case of production of briquettes from agricultural wastes. However, depending on the material of interest, briquetting can be used to provide fuel source as a preventive measure to many ecological problems. Briquetting is a high- pressure process which can
be done at elevated temperature  or at ambient temperature [15, 16] depending on the technology one wants to employ.
During this process, fine material is compacted into regular shape and size which does not separate during transportation, storage or combustion. In some briquetting techniques, the materials are simply compressed without addition of adhesive (binderless briquettes) [17, 18] while in some, adhesive material is added to assist in holding the particles of the material together [15, 16].
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