CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan - South Dakota Army National Guard Soldiers and other servicemembers stationed here are getting environmentally conscious by initiating a waste-recycle pilot program designed to provide a renewable heat source for Afghans living in the capital of Kabul.
Members of the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade are volunteering their time to develop a “fuel donut” made from recycled materials, which burns like a briquette and provides an alternative heat source for Afghan families who live in homes without modern heating conveniences.
“This program is good for everybody – the Afghans, the environment and our camps,” said Army Capt. Robert Small, design engineer/environmental area manager for the Directorate of Public Works.
Using shredded paper and saw dust from the camp; the material is combined with water and ash and pressed into shape of a donut or roll. The donut can burn for about an hour; providing heat for warmth or cooking, and gives off few emissions.
“This is a fairly clean burning source and it’s sustainable. Its gives the Afghans something to keep their homes warm, without releasing toxic fumes,” said Small. “The camps produce a lot of paper and construction waste and it normally ends up in the landfills – this is a way we can keep it from going into the landfills, reuse it, and provide a product to Afghans who really need it.”
According to Small, other materials can be used such as grasses, leaves or anything that can be composted.
Initially conceived as a product to be made by the camp’s volunteer-outreach program and donated to Afghan families during humanitarian missions, Small and the outreach volunteers have higher aspirations for the fuel donut, and are looking at ways which will allow Afghans to make their own.
“The fuel donut is not a new concept. It has been used by humanitarian organizations in developing countries around the world, but it is fairly new to Afghanistan with only a few contractors developing them here,” said Small. “But from a volunteer standpoint, we not only want to provide these donuts to the Afghans, but provide them with the knowledge to make them.”
Using basic wood-building materials, the 196th members have designed a prototype press and drying rack, which can be made by Afghans, allowing them the means to create fuel donuts for their family, village, or even as a source of income for themselves.
“When we started this program we wanted to make it simple. The materials are from the scrap heap, and the construction techniques for the equipment can be made with limited carpentry skills,” said Small.
“Just about anybody can do this and the whole family can get involved and produce enough fuel for themselves and maybe even have a micro-business to sell it.”
Once the program is fully developed for Camp Phoenix, Small hopes start-up programs can be initiated at other military installations throughout the Kabul Base Cluster, and the manufacturing process can be facilitated with surrounding villages.
In the long-term, Small hopes the program to be expanded to bases throughout the country and developed in rural areas.
“Were trying to make this program sustainable for villages and refugee camps – with different recipes for different areas with whatever waste streams they have available,” said Small.
“I hope the Afghans will realize that we are here really trying to help them and that we care about the environment and the people who really need the fuel to stay warm.”