UMD research may solve two African problems with one briquette

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Scientists at the University of Minnesota-Duluth report promising developments that could help West African nations struggling with both deforestation and diminishing access to fresh water.

The News Tribune reports the researchers are taking an invasive plant that's choking rivers and lakes and turning it into charcoal-like briquettes. The prospect of harvesting the typha plant for fuel could reduce deforestation, which is a factor in the expansion of the Sahara Desert.

Small-scale testing of the process has been successful. Now more than 200 pounds of typha has been brought to UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute.

Typha is a marsh plant similar to a cattail. Its beds are blocking access to fresh water sources in several African countries. They're a factor is the drying up of such bodies of water as Lake Chad. The marshes they create also become breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry malaria.

Turning the plant into briquettes for fuel could relieve pressure to log the dwindling number of trees in the area for fuel.

UMD'S Natural Resources Research Institute more typically works on developing markets for Minnesota forest products. Here's a primer on the work of the Institute:

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