Avia Collinder, Business Writer
Bamboo charcoal has gone on sale in two grocery outlets in Kingston in a market-testing phase of the project to track consumer reaction to the product.
The fuel is available at Lee's Food Fair and General Foods Supermarket, said Gladstone Rose, chairman of the Bamboo and Indigenous Materials Advisory Committee (BIMAC).
Rose is also an official of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), which is leading the project to create money-making products from Jamaica's prolific bamboo plant.
BSJ formed the multi-skilled committee, BIMAC, to look into value-added production and commercialisation of the local species of bamboo, the bambusa vulgaris.
The bamboo charcoal, branded Supa, retails for J$195 to J$257 per 5lb bag.
"At present, the retail prices are approximately the same as timber charcoal," said the BIMAC chairman.
"As bamboo charcoal production for other uses such as water filters, air filters, sugar refining and dehumidifiers gets started in the future, we expect economies of scale will lead to bamboo charcoal being less expensive than timber charcoal at retail outlets," he said.
The results of the market test, said Rose, will help to determine whether to move on to the full commercialisation of the charcoal product, whose burn-rate BIMAC describes as lasting longer than traditional coal made from timber.
The bamboo charcoal is described by the BSJ as eco-friendly; easy to light a fire; ready to cook faster than timber charcoal; emits less smoke; and does not affect food taste.
"A very important point to note, however, is that bamboo charcoal is sustainable because it is renewable, and managed plantations can be realised within three years. Presently, there is an abundant supply of bamboo in Jamaica, some 47,000 hectares, which is the subject of an industry-planning process that is now taking place to ensure orderly harvesting and replanting," said Rose.
He also told Wednesday Business that the bamboo charcoal-manufacturing process creates vinegar as a by-product, which can be used as an ingredient in health products.
BIMAC says 30lb of bamboo charcoal will last just as long as 30lb of timber charcoal but the bamboo charcoal produces more heat than some timber charcoal.
"The sale came after trials in jerk centres and homes resulted in positive feedback on the new Jamaican bamboo product," said Rose.
The product, which was first tested in October 2012, also meets the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) specification for ash and moisture content, Rose said.
INBAR promotes value-added production from bamboo worldwide. China is the dominant producer market.
"Bamboo charcoal has much higher absorptivity than wood charcoal and, therefore, can be used for a wide range of different purification and absorption applications, such as purifying drinking water, in air filters, gas masks, mattresses and pillows, as a deodoriser, and for certain industrial purification uses such as sugar refinement," said the BIMAC chairman.
He said bamboo charcoal tends to be hotter than some local timber charcoal and therefore, weight for weight, is better value for money.
BIMAC members have used bambusa vulgaris to produce prototypes of bamboo plywood, bamboo student's chair, bamboo baking spoons and other utensils, bamboo floors and bamboo tiles.