The Eastern Mediterranean Charcoal Industry: Air Pollution Prevention by the Implementation of a New Ecological Retort System

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Earth kilns are still used for charcoal production in the Eastern Mediterranean and worldwide. Until 2016, around 1,600 tons of charcoal were produced in Israel and the Palestinian territories in about 400 traditional earth kilns that were operated in about the same manner for the last 400 years. The intense air pollution caused by this indigenous practice resulted in higher mortality rates among the workers and the population living close to the charcoal production sites. The air pollution was found to migrate beyond 50 km, causing cross-boundary pollution in Jordan. Since the charcoal production industry processes surplus wood into solid fuel, which is used for heating and cooking, it was imperative to shift this industry to a new type of non-polluting charcoal production system. Upgrading this industry to 21st century standards became possible through a combined effort by Israeli researchers and Palestinian manufacturers in the development and implementation of a new ecological retort system (ERS). Comparing the ERS to the old earth kilns suggests that the ERS produces charcoal without emitting air pollution, the wood-to-charcoal transformation efficiency is about 10% higher in the ERS and the process duration is half a day versus about 3 weeks in a traditional kiln. Generally, ERS is about two orders of magnitude more productive than the traditional earth kilns. The ERS combines a simple operational scheme and higher charcoal yield than a traditional kiln, leading to an increase in the revenue to the charcoal makers as well as through byproducts with economic value such as electric energy and wood vinegar. These advantages with the transition to the ERS system can ensure a more efficient and cleaner operation of this indigenous local industry.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021EA002044
JournalEarth and Space Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • charcoal
  • environmental hazard
  • indigenous practice
  • sustainable development


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