The world needs to become more sustainable if we want to keep it habitable. We are investing in renewable energy sources and more and more cars are driving on alternative fuels. An increasing amount of researchers are warning about the global warning. Humanity needs to get earth balanced again, and every bit helps.
In some parts of the world synthetic pesticides are used in agriculture without proper regulation or control. This leads to unbalanced ecological systems, which harm the local environment. Wood vinegar is a biological alternative for the synthetic chemicals, with the possibility of being produced from leftover wood of the farm.
Some people already produce wood vinegar and use it as pesticide, but often, their setup is not optimal. Many of these installations are inefficient, unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly. We aim to improve the production process of wood vinegar and thus make the world more sustainable.
Wood vinegar, or pyroligneous acid, is produced through thermal decomposition of wood or other vegetable materials in a low-oxygen environment. In the process charcoal is created and several gases are emitted. Some of these gases are condensed and can be refined into wood vinegar, oil and tar. A simplified version of the current process is shown below. Next to wood vinegar, tar, charcoal and some gases are also products. All these byproducts have their usages. Charcoal, for example, can be used for cooking.
As you can see, the only input material is leftover wood, which is sufficiently present at small farmers in Thailand. This is the main reason why we have chosen to focus on small farmers in Thailand. In the Netherlands for example, farmers do not have the amount of waste wood to produce enough wood vinegar for their land. This would mean that it would not be self-sustainable. In Thailand however, this is the case on small scale farms. They have enough leftover wood every week to produce the necessary amount of wood vinegar.
Wood vinegar can also be used as food additive, mostly known as ‘Liquid Smoke’. You might know the smell of wood vinegar, it has an acrid smoky odor and is for example used in barbecue sauce.
Aside from water (80%-90%), it consists mostly of acetic acid, acetone and a small amount of methanol. In total there are more than two hundred organic compounds in wood vinegar. Because of this large amount of compounds, there are a lot of different kinds of wood vinegar and it has multiple usages.
The most important property for this project is the usage of it as pesticide and soil improvement supplement. However, it also can be used as food supplement for farm animals. The egg production and quality increase when wood vinegar is added to the feed of chicken. Adding wood vinegar to the feed of pigs increases the nutrient digestibility.
For students at the University of Technology Eindhoven there is the possibility to become part of the Honors Academy for an extra challenge. Being part of the Honors Academy means you work on a self chosen project. When Max visited Thailand, he saw how farmers made wood vinegar. Their installation worked well, but was not very efficient. He saw potential improvements, and decided he wanted to improve the production process to help Thai farmers produce more wood vinegar. He proposed his idea at the Energy Transition Track of the Honors Academy. The rest of the team joined and thus the project was born.