From food to mobile biogas: Transforming waste to friendly energy

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019 00:00 |
Eric Otieno hopes to help individuals care for the environment with his portable boigas system. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

Manuel Ntoyai

Eric Otieno had big dreams. One of them was to take over the sales and marketing scene by storm. He founded Neonate Xeric Timeous Limited (NXT), but nothing came out of it.

“Our company was registered in 2015 with hopes of growing in sales and marketing. What we thought would work for us turned out to be a frustrating venture,” he states.

The soft-spoken businessman, though interested in environment and conservation, never thought about venturing into the sector, but as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. 

“My grandmother kept telling us of the problems she faced when collecting and using firewood. At first, I thought of getting her a biogas system, but she did have any cattle. That’s when I realised I could produce gas from food waste from the market-place,” he says. 

Just like any businessman, Otieno did his research and visited different institutions. Pushed by the need to change his grandmother’s life, he even made calls to places as far as Germany. 

Since producing energy from waste is not new, Otieno had to make his business unique. They went for a mobile biogas system with a flexible kit made of a double membrane canvas. 

How it works

Once a client orders for the portable biogas, they get a biogas digester, two-burner cooker, fittings and valve. All the owner needs to do is set it up and put feedstock, including food, plant or animal waste, into it. Within two or three days, biogas would be generated and the kit ready to be used for cooking. 

“Once someone buys a kit from us, we plant not less than five trees either at your home or our place of choice. It’s our way of fighting deforestation and raising awareness on climate change,” he says.

One can assemble it anywhere and anytime whether in the towns or in the village. While most people tend to think biogas works only with animal waste, food wastes from the market could also do the trick, if not work better.

While his targeted clients are private homes and schools, Otieno plans to work with manufacturers and companies in the future. “In our country, a lot of companies are making losses or less profit because of the high costs of production.

 Helping businesses reduce energy consumption will lower their cost of production and doing business. The initial cost of setting the industrial capacity system is higher than in private homes. The residential ones go for Sh65,000, while an industrial system can go to an excess of Sh5 million,” he says.

For those who might not be able to afford the kit fully, the company is flexible when it comes to payment. Buyers can enter into an agreement to pay in instalments. 

Personal responsibility

For him, small-scale farmers have a lot to gain from the portable biofuel. “Most Kenyans have little knowledge about green energy, but one special group that can push this agenda are farmers who can leverage technologies for better returns.

Companies are a little hesitant since the technology is still new, despite the benefits they would get as they would look at the initial investment required,” he says. 

So how do the businesses operate for small-scale farmers?  “Once you feed the digester with waste, it breaks it down to produce manure, which farmers can use in their shambas. For urban dwellers, the compost is good for grass and makes the air fresh as it feeds off carbon,” he adds. 

Besides portable biogas, Otieno and his company entered into a partnership with an American company to produce polythene bags that dissolve in water. It is yet to go commercial and when it does, Kenya will be amongst the first countries in the world to use it.

Eric believes being environmentally conscious should be everyone’s lifestyle and responsibility. “Caring for our environment should be a personal responsibility. We are still pushing for more reforms apart from the banning of single plastic use bags,” he concludes. 

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