General Electric-backed biogas firm cuts own niche

Afrisol Energy chief executive Amos Nguru at the site of  bio-latrine construction at Mukuru kwa Njenga in Nairobi. Photo/Diana Ngila
Afrisol Energy chief executive Amos Nguru at the site of  bio-latrine construction at Mukuru kwa Njenga in Nairobi. Photo/Diana Ngila 

A four-year old start-up is cutting a market niche by building biogas supply systems for schools, tapping into high demand for cheaper electricity and cooking fuel.

Afrisol Energy Ltd, which also constructs biogas plants in slum areas, has caught the eye of US conglomerate General Electric with its projects which turn waste into affordable fuel, organic fertiliser and electricity.

The company won last year’s Sh8.5 million ($100,000) General Electric award for being among Africa’s most innovative off-grid energy firms.

Some of the schools that have tapped Afrisol’s biogas technology include Alliance, Kagumo in Nyeri, Compuera Mangu Girls in Juja and Phillips Academy in Murang’a.

“The use of biogas for cooking and lighting is by far much more affordable since the organic materials used are readily available and cost little,” said the Afrisol chief executive Amos Nguru in an interview.

The CEO is, however, guarded on Afrisol’s financials, only saying that the company’s turnover is “in the millions”.

The Nairobi-based company, which was founded in 2010, is also involved in setting up biogas plants for individuals and institutions with ready supply of organic material such as animal and crop waste, mass food as well as sewage.

Most schools, Mr Nguru says, grapple with huge power and electricity bills despite having sufficient supply of organic waste.

Most use the relatively more expensive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or smoke-emitting firewood for cooking, while those that are not connected to the national power grid rely on costly diesel-run generators for lighting.

Afrisol reckons that since most secondary schools have ranches and many toilet blocks, they could easily generate cooking gas and electricity from the refuse.

Biogas is produced by treating biodegradable waste materials such as paper, crops and sewage in a bio-digester – a tank which is sealed to accelerate breakdown of the waste into methane, the burning gas.

The plant has a lifespan of up to 50 years.

The company last year set up a Sh1.5 million cow dung-fed biogas plant at Alliance High School which replaced LPG usage.

Alliance High School principal David Kariuki said that the plant has returned significant savings. “We previously used to spend about Sh200,000 per term in use of LPG. I no longer buy cooking fuel since we started using biogas,” he told the Business Daily on phone.

The school’s annual fuel bills added up to Sh600,000.

Mr Kariuki, however, said that the school occasionally supplements the cooking gas with firewood whenever the supply of waste is depressed.

The uptake of biogas in Kenya has been low compared to other sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar .