Waste to Energy: Circular Economy Fuels Shea Butter Processing


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Baraka Impact is pioneering a closed loop, waste to energy process that provides 100% of the fuel energy for processing shea butter, while mitigating climate change, supporting biodiversity and ecosystem health and providing local employment.

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The Story in Pictures

Fuel Energy for Making Shea Butter

The Baraka Way (Waste to Energy, combatting deforestation)

We aren’t perfect, and we aren’t all the way there. Yet. But, with the support and encouragement of our customers and their customers we are making progress, innovating and making change.

With your support, we continue trying to make the shea butter industry more beneficial and impactful for the women producing shea butter and more restorative and less harmful for the environment and ecosystems.   

Follow along to see an exciting new initiative

Whipping the kneaded and roasted shea coagulates the oils, leaving behind waste water saturated with shea nut solids

Watch the freshly roasted shea butter getting hand-whipped to coagulate the oils and leave behind waste water, saturated with nut solids that become fuel energy for the next batch of shea butter
After whipping the coagulated oil is scooped out by hand, leaving behind the waste water which is saturated with nut solids

Wastewater is dumped and left for the water to evaporate and drain, leaving behind nut-solids to be made into waste to energy solar dried fuel blocks

Wastewater is carried to hand-dug setline ponds where it is dumped to let the sun and gravity remove the potable water that was added during whipping
Dumping waste water into settling ponds

Wastewater is dumped and left for the water to evaporate and drain, leaving behind nut-solids to be made into waste to energy solar dried fuel blocks

A full settling pond where the waste water is draining and evaporating to leave behind the nut solids to be used for fuel blocks
A full settling pond with shea waste fuel blocks solar drying in the background

The waste water is left to settle and evaporate, leaving behind shea nut solids which are an excellent fuel source. The solids are shoveled into a wheelbarrow and taken to be made into fuel blocks.

After the water drains and evaporates the nut solids are collected and moved to where they will be made into fuel blocks and solar dried
Nut solids in the settling pond after water has drained and evaporated

The shea nut solids are made into fuel blocks and balls. Sometimes the women like the smaller, handmade balls and sometimes they prefer the larger, molded blocks.

Some fuel blocks are hand-shaped into balls. Here you see Memuna working to handmake balls that will be set out for solar drying
Baraka’s Wa team developed custom moulds for making perfectly shaped fuel blocks from the nut solids.
Watch as the shea nut solids are made into fuel blocks using the custom moulds developed by Baraka’s Wa based team
Memuna, Ella and their colleagues are laughing and joking as they handmake fuel balls for solar drying

The fuel blocks and balls made from shea nut waste are left to dry using solar energy.

Fuel blocks and balls drying in the sun
Shea nut waste blocks drying in the sun with the Konjeihi Women’s Enterprise Centre in the background

When they are dried enough that they will burn hot and virtually smoke free (which the women much prefer to the traditional firewood which is smokey and doesn’t burn even) the fuel blocks are collected and taken to be used in shea roasting and boiling

Amina collecting fuel balls to use for roasting shea nuts
After drying in the hot sun the fuel blocks and balls, recovered from what was previously just waste, are collected and taken to the processing area where they are used for the roasting and boiling steps of making shea butter

The fuel blocks and balls are used for roasting and boiling shea butter

Zee holds a shea waste fuel block that is being used to fuel the eco-ergonomic shea roaster behind her
Shea waste fuel blocks burn hot, even and virtually smoke free
The fuel blocks, made from recovered waste are a perfect fuel source for the roasting and boiling steps. They burn hot and virtually smoke-free in the new ergo-environmental shea roasters from the Burn Design, evanhealy Baraka collaboration
Shea waste fuel blocks (see basin full in the foreground) burn hot, even and virtually smoke free and are preferred over trees cut for firewood

And, here is what we get. Made with 90% less climate and carbon impact. An amazing product for your skin and hair, incredible impact on the women and communities that make it and supporting biodiversity, ecosystem health and wildlife habitat.

All made possible by customers like you, who believe that business can and should create social impact and be an effective steward of the environment at the same time as it makes profit and creates business value.

Shea Butter, hand made and making a difference for women, families, communities and the environment

The “Normal” Way (Cutting trees for firewood)

This is the traditional way of gathering the energy needed for making shea butter. This is still used by nearly all in the industry today.

Freshly cut living trees, often shea trees, are used for fuel for making shea butter by most producers because it is simpler and easier.

Shea Tree Cut for firewood for shea processing
Shea Tree Cut for firewood for shea processing
Shea nuts roasted using firewood, cut from the shea forest, for fuel

The Story in Words

The process involves no mechanization and is based on an integration of traditional knowledge and ingenuity from northern Ghana, coupled with pragmatic engineering insights gained from decades of Saskatchewan farming and logging experience.

Making shea butter from shea nuts leaves behind nearly 60% of the biomass as waste. Historically, for commercial hand-made shea production processes this was a problem to be dealt with, too often left to scatter over local landscapes and drain into waterways.

While the waste is entirely organic, with no added chemicals or anything, it still leaves an unsightly mess and builds up rapidly. And, at the same time as this organic waste is causing a problem and creating cost for dealing with, most processors are buying firewood for the roasting and boiling that is part of making hand-made shea butter.

Too often this fire wood is actually shea trees, cut down needlessly, decimating the shea forest, accelerating climate change and destroying ecosystem health and wildlife habitat.

We are a long way from perfecting this process, and we have borrowed heavily from local knowledge. We still need to work out how to do it at a greater scale, and sort out how to do it in the rainy season when we can’t leave it out for days to dry.

But, we are really encouraged by the progress we have made. The women prefer the recovered waste for fuel. It burns hotter and with less smoke than firewood and is easier to manage the heat with.

While we have had this project in mind for some time, and have made small forays into doing it, we must give credit to Burn Design Lab and evanhealy, our partners on the new Eco-Ergonomic Shea Roaster project. The new roasters and the leap forward they made in mitigating the environmental impact of shea processing inspired us to invest time and effort into scaling our Waste to Energy concept.

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