This Entrepreneur Has A Safer Alternative to Charcoal

Victor Willie with a bag of eco-coal known as briquettes

— Leveraging Climate Entrepreneurship, Victor Willie Turns biodegradable waste into briquettes

Like many Liberians, Victor Willie was obsessed with the outcry of citizens on Monrovia’s uncontrollable waste disposal.  So, he sought Google for help by researching how to transform bio-degradable waste into carbonized briquettes.

Willie founded Eco-coal Fuel in 2021 to produce briquettes as an alternative to replace conventional wood-based charcoal. “It is smokeless, safe, and helps to save the environment, he said.

In Liberia, a huge reliance on wood and charcoal for cooking is depleting the forest, which hosts half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa. The country has lost 150,000 hectares of natural forest, according to Global Forest Watch. A World Bank 2023 Poverty Assessment Report stated that each person consumes an average of up to 2 hectares of forest per year.

When trees are cut down to produce charcoal, it contributes to deforestation, one of the major factors in climate change. Trees are important because they absorb greenhouse gasses, so they can help reduce the effects of climate change. 

Flooding, sea level rise, and heat are the vivid impacts of climate change in Liberia. The United Nations and other international bodies have advocated for more climate funding that supports alternatives such as briquettes, clean cookstoves, and solar power to countries that are vulnerable to climate change, though they contribute fewer greenhouse emissions compared to China, Russia, America, and India. 

In 2021, with just an idea and help from search engines, Willie decided to help. He, along with a few volunteers, sawdust, coconut shells, and leaves to produce carbonized briquettes.

“We get the coconut shell from people selling coconut, and we sometimes go from house to house asking for waste from people,” he said. 

Producing briquettes is a simple process, in contrast to the labor-intensive process of making regular charcoal, which involves felling and gathering trees, chopping them into pieces, piling them together to create a fire hearth, and slow-burning them for weeks or months before bagging the coal and then trucking the bags to urban markets for sale.

The waste is gathered and carbonized, after which it is sent into a grinder to be finely ground. The grinder then feeds the ground material into a mixer, which produces briquettes, which is the equipment that produces the final product for end-users as a way of promoting clean cooking. 

The World Bank Poverty Assessment report stated that using cleaner fuels that meet international indoor quality guidelines has the potential to prevent deaths and health impacts from household indoor air pollution while reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. However, the report added that achieving clean cooking would require the availability of affordable energy sources such as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), natural gas and electricity, and a range of technologies across the country.

Liberia has fallen far short in meeting its goals to address the environmental and health challenges of deforestation. In 2015, Liberia was among 196 countries that signed the Paris Agreement to reverse global warming by drastically reducing the use of “fossil fuels” — gas, oil, and charcoal. And Liberia was among 141 countries that pledged to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030.  

Low levels of access to electricity also make Liberians dependent upon the traditional cookpot. Only 7 percent of Liberia’s population has access to grid electricity, according to the World Bank 2020 report, while a quarter of the populace uses some sources of electricity.

Climate experts and the UN have repeatedly warned that if actions are not taken, the world will fall short of its target to achieve universal access to clean cooking by 2030, “ensuring access to affordable, reliable sustainable and modern energy for all,” according to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Charcoal Sector 

Apart from providing energy for Liberians, charcoal is a major source of income for so many rural and urban households. Charcoal production is growing worldwide and the UN’s Environment Programme has warned of the dangers of the practice of charcoal production and urgently recommended using other organic waste materials, like shells and leaves.

A 2018 report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) said charcoal consumption accounted for 337,000 metric tons (worth US$46 million) in Liberia and employed 28,000 people full-time.

In 2015, Liberia and its partners developed the  Rural Energy Strategy Master Plan to make available clean cookstoves, solar lamps, and efficient appliances to rural inhabitants by 2030.


Setting up the processing plant was not an easy task for Willie. The vacant land and the dumpsite were available, but building the sites, machines, and chemicals were unavailable. For three years, he struggled to run his business. Limited sales and awareness were constraints. 

“Where we are currently was a dump site,” he said. “But we were able to get it from my family. They allowed us to build our facility here.” 


Liberians are accustomed to charcoal. So, changing to briquettes has been a difficult task. Many claim they do not know how to use the briquettes, even though it is similar to charcoal in color and texture. Prices vary from L$100, L$250, and L$350. 

“People are complaining about the price,” Willie said. But what people will complain about is that it is expensive, but they don’t know they are contributing to a safe environment and clean environment.”

Eco-coal Fuel, like many businesses, is struggling to survive. Awareness and acceptability are major hindrances to the business’s growth. But in 2023, Willie’s business won a U$40,000 grant from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that provided two recycles and an extended facility.

“Before the UNDP’s grant, the issue of production facility and logistics was another issue, but when UNDP came in, we now have a big processing facility,” he said.