Africa’s population mainly uses traditional biomass to provide for their energy needs. The alternatives such as LPG, kerosene and electricity are too expensive. These products require expensive conversion technologies which are beyond financial affordability. The traditional biomass's, charcoal low-efficiency or firewood are not much cheaper but they require no technologies to convert the energy source into utilization. In addition, 67 % of the African population has no access to electricity, and therefore utilize available energy sources, which results in 730 million Africans dependent on wood fuels.
The international charcoal market has doubled over the last year to a total figure of 4 million tons per year. Europe imports more than 600.000 tons per year, the main source of these exports originate in Africa. All in all, the problem is of global scope. The greatest demand emerges in lesser developed countries. Africa produced and consumed 32 million tons of charcoal, 62% of the charcoal worldwide, in 2016. In 2015, the charcoal market in Africa accumulated to 25 million tons, this means that Africa experienced a growth in demand in the last two years. The market is predicted to double, maybe even triple, by 2050.
The charcoal producers are numerous and operate on a small scale applying no technologies or sustainable practices. This results in a fragmented market, a market not regulated or controlled, a so called informal sector. Therefore, the charcoal has no standards and the consumer has no guarantee concerning the origin or the quality of the charcoal. Additionally, the sector is not taxed by the government and consequently hundreds of millions of dollars do not support the development of the economy or region.
The most common method of pyrolysis is the earth mound. This traditional method has been practiced for thousands of years and is of historical importance for human evolution. However, the traditional method is very inefficient, ineffective and environmentally harmful. In low-income countries, the earth mound is the most common method of charcoal production. Today, the use of traditional pyrolysis methods in correlation with unsustainable harvesting is the greatest contributor of GHG emissions along the charcoal value chain and improvements could help lower the amount. Furthermore, an estimated one million Africans die annually because of smoke poisoning. This is partially because the traditional charcoal process produces poor quality charcoal with a high volatile content which results in bad combustion and therefore in extensive smoke formation.