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US firm Cummins starts 12MW Baringo power production in October

The power plant will transform the Mathenge tree from a ‘noxious weed’ to ‘cash crop’ status. PHOTO | FILE
The power plant will transform the Mathenge tree from a ‘noxious weed’ to ‘cash crop’ status. PHOTO | FILE 

American engineering firm Cummins Inc has set October as the date to begin generating electricity from a toxic shrub popularly referred to as ‘Mathenge,’ after more than two years of false starts blamed on mechanical hitches.

The Columbus-based company said it is working to rectify the technical snags that have dogged the 12-megwatt Mathenge power plant in Marigat, Baringo County, which was due to begin feeding the grid in June 2014.

The poisonous shrub’s scientific name is prosopis juliflora, but was christened Mathenge by locals.

“The delay was brought by the modification being done (still in progress) on the gasifiers to contain excess tar and water, and also enhance gas cleaning and upgrade on gasifier control system with modification being done,” the firm said in an interview with the Business Daily.

Cummins now says the first batch of two megawatts produced from the noxious weed will be sold to Kenya Power in October.

The firm had first set June 2014 as the offtake date, which was later moved to March 2015.

“We will resume trial runs by next week. If trial runs are of success for the next three weeks, by end of September or early October we will export the two megawatts of power for phase one to the grid.”

The Sh3 billion ($30 million) Mathenge power plant is a joint venture between Cummins Power Generation and British firm Gentec Energy.

Cummins acquired the Baringo Mathenge power project for an undisclosed fee from Tower Power, a venture owned by Manu Chandaria through Comcraft Group and Powergas International, a UK-based energy conglomerate.

Electricity from the Mathenge plant in Baringo will be sold to Kenya Power at a cost of ¢10 (Sh10) per kilowatt-hour, half the cost of diesel-fired electricity which is priced at ¢20 (Sh20) per kWh.

Cummins’ upcoming Mathenge power plant becomes Kenya’s third biomass electricity producer to be connected to the national grid after Mumias Sugar bagasse and Naivasha-based horticultural firm VP Group biogas plant.

The project to tap plant as a power source is backed by US President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative which seeks to utilise green energy sources to generate cheaper electricity in the continent.

Producing power from the shrub involves cutting the tree stem into chips, drying and then burning them at high temperatures under controlled oxygen to avoid complete combustion. The resulting gas is used to run specialised generators which in turn produce electricity.

The power plant will transform the Mathenge tree from a ‘noxious weed’ to ‘cash crop’ status when about 2,000 Baringo households begin supplying Cummins with tree stems as the raw materials for power generation.

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