Decentralized torrefaction for producing high-yield, irrigation-saving fertilizer

Decentralized torrefaction for producing high-yield, irrigation-saving fertilizer
Ahmed Ghoniem, Ronald C. Crane (1972) Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Period of performance: 

September 2018 to September 2019
Fertilizer, Africa, Kenya, torrefaction, smallscale farming, sustainabile farming, farming, farm, technology, food, agriculture, start-up, farm waste, waste, J-WAFS, J-WAFS Solutions, Solutions


Many smallholder farmers depend on costly, synthetic fertilizers imported from abroad, and the misuse of such fertilizer in many cases has led to soil acidification and crop yield loss. One solution is currently being developed by mechanical engineering professor Ahmed Ghoniem and his lab: a new process called decentralized biomass torrefaction that downsizes and decentralizes fertilizer production, such that it can be carried out on a small-scale, village basis using mostly locally available resources, labor, and agricultural residues in under one hour.

A preliminary field trial in Africa [Kenya], showed that farmers who use this product typically observe an improved harvest (10-30%), increased net income (70-200%), and reduced irrigation need (~10%) at the same input cost. The result is an improvement in food security and a reduction in water consumption for smallholder farmers in rural areas.

This new process builds on our lab’s prior exploration in oxygen-lean torrefaction, which resulted in a new class of patent-pending biomass reactors that are lightweight and small-scale compared to others that are currently available. These portable reactors can be latched onto the back of tractors or inside standard shipping containers, and perform the biomass processing in the field rather than at a centralized plant. The J-WAFS Solutions Grant will support  scale-up of the lab-scale technology to produce to a pre-commercial prototype.