Innovation in one of the World’s Oldest Industries—A Report From Kenya

Photo courtesy of Sanivation

Written by Andrew Foote with significant contributions from Catherine Berner and Benjamin Kramer

There have been great strides in energy access in the past 10 years. We now see consumers using pay-as-you-go solar or even $5 off-grid LED lights. To meet heating and cooking needs however, 83 percent of Kenyans still rely on biomass fuel and industries account for nearly 25 percent of charcoal consumption.

The biomass fuel market, until recently, has been severely neglected by global innovators. This is surprising because biomass fuel is a U.S. $500 million dollar market in Kenya, and also unfortunate because this market creates extremely destructive health and environmental impacts.

Every day, Kenyans must choose between two archaic fuels to cook their food: charcoal or firewood. Both solutions are responsible for deforestation and indoor air pollution, the latter of which is the leading cause of death for children under five globally. Firewood is particularly time- and labor-intensive, while charcoal is capital-intensive—regularly accounting for up to 30 percent of a family’s daily income. The price for each of these fuels is only increasing as forest coverage is dwindling. This situation is not sustainable, and unless something changes there will not be any forests left and respiratory infections will continue to be a leading killer.

It is time for a revolution in the solid fuels sector — and that revolution is charcoal briquettes.

The Briquette Revolution

Briquettes have the potential to change the current dynamic of solid-fuel production across East Africa. Briquettes are a manufactured solid fuel formed by compacting biomass waste, often with adhesive binders that increase strength and retain shape. By transforming waste streams into a valuable fuel, briquettes unlock the true potential of waste products. In fact, existing waste residues from the agricultural industry in Kenya have the potential to satisfy more than half of the demand —> Read More