In thinking about renewable sources of fuel to keep cooking after all the charcoal or gas is gone, there is a project that I have been dying to try out. This project actually serves two purposes, one, it provides you with that fuel you need to keep cooking. Two, it could provide you with fuel you need to power a vehicle or a generator. The first I'll cover here, the second in the next article.
You will need the following:
55-gallon steel drum
Metal cover for steel drum
3-inch-diameter steel pipe, 6 inches long
3-inch-diameter steel circle
One small field of sugar cane or corn can generate tons of leaves and stalks that, for the most part, are discarded as useless waste when harvest season has ended. These materials can, however, be used to produce fuel for heating and cooking. The discarded plant material is naturally rich in carbon, which like wood chunks can be used in to make homemade charcoal. Making your own charcoal can reduce dependence on fossil fuels, make heating and cooking cheaper and reduce the waste in landfills. Even soft woods that you can't cook with normally can be carbonized and used as charcoal.
Use tinsnips to cut a 2-inch hole in the center of the bottom of a 55-gallon steel drum. Cut four more holes around the center hole, with each positioned about 6 inches from the center hole.
Stuff each of the five holes with dried leaves. These leaves should be able to burn easily. These will act as fuses to begin the carbonation process inside the drum.
Set the drum upright on the three bricks so there is space between the bottom of the drum and the ground. Fill the drum up to the top with the leaves, stalks and scraps of wood. Fill in empty spaces to reduce the flow of oxygen inside the barrel. Fill it as high as you can without interfering with the placement of the lid.
Light each fuse that's sticking out of the bottom of the drum, and let the smoke fill the drum. Wait five to 10 minutes for the thick plumes of smoke to die down. A lot of this smoke is burning off the natural oils from the leaves, and you don’t want them in your charcoal. Press the trigger on the pilot-light lighter and hold it to the smoke emerging from the drum. There should be a flash of flame as the last of the oils are burned off.
Cover the top of the drum immediately, and remove the bricks from underneath. If even a little bit of oxygen is able to get flowing through the drum, the leaves will burn and not carbonize. Set one of the bricks on the drum lid. Wait two hours or until the drum is warm, but not hot, to the touch. Remove the lid.
Dump the cooled, carbonized leaves into a plastic garbage bag, and crush the remnants into a fine powder. Mix 2 parts corn starch to 1 part water to create a thick, soupy solution. Add the powdered leaf remnants, and mix well until a thick mud is formed. Place the metal pipe over the steel circle on a flat surface. Fill the pipe with the mud. Place the metal press over the top of the pipe, and hammer the mud into the pipe tightly. Lift the pipe off the steel circle and remove your briquette. Repeat the process until all the mud material has been used.
Dry the briquettes for one week and pack them into sealed bags. You now have a good supply of charcoal for your next weeks dinner.