The vast Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake and supports a myriad of flora and fauna ecosystem. Over 40 million people are dependent on the lake for their livelihoods. This critical lake is however under threat from the persistent water hyacinth weed that has invaded large parts of it, bringing with it enormous challenges, as witnessed by Mr. Richard Ochieng, a resident of Kisumu, and founder of Centre for Innovation Science and Technology in Africa: “Initially people didn’t see its effects because it was manageable, but as we talk now, it has deprived people of their economic activities. The fishing boats are trapped; those who are doing local tourism cannot do their business; those who are doing fishing cannot do their business. This weed (water hyacinth) unless it’s contained then we will not have what is called a Lake Victoria anymore.
In 2015, while teaching at Mudhiero Secondary School in Siaya County, Richard led a group of students in carrying our experiments to extract biofuel from water hyacinth, as a way of containing the weed and providing cleaner and cheaper energy for cooking in place of paraffin. Well, the success of the initial experiment earned Richard and his team of students an Award from NETFUND, as the best entry in the schools category under the theme of Energy Management.
The rest, as they say, is history. NETFUND, with support from WWF-Kenya, soon enrolled Richard in its incubation program. The program provides an array of business support services for green start-ups to realize their full market potential. Through this program, NETFUND supports the Government of Kenya’s ideals of green growth in the Kenya Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan (GESIP).
WWF-Kenya’s support went towards research, specifically qualitative as well as market acceptability test in informal settlements in Kisumu, as narrated by Richard: “The support was used for qualitative testing in a government laboratory in Nairobi, and to purchase 100 stoves and generate enough biofuel for market acceptability test. The result we got was overwhelming.” The overwhelming results that Richard is referring to include findings that biofuel from water hyacinth is a better cooking fuel than wood fuel, briquettes, charcoal and paraffin and has higher calorific value, lower carbon and Sulphur emission. “Paraffin emits 8 times more carbon than the biofuel,” observes Richard, and then continues: “For now, it (biofuel) is Kshs 5 cheaper than paraffin, and even more cheaper than charcoal. Maybe firewood is the cheapest but accessibility of firewood is increasingly becoming a challenge.”
As a result of its outstanding qualities and characteristics, the biofuel has proved a good alternative source of clean and affordable energy for the 100 households used for market acceptability test and pilot in Peri-urban settlements in Kisumu City. This development can only mean one thing, a brighter future for bioethanol!
“The business future is brighter for us,” explains Richard. “From here we want to expand our production capacity,” he continues. “Now we produce about 300 litres of biofuel per day, but we want to enhance our production to 3000 litres per day,” he concludes.
No “one size fits all.” Overcoming the energy challenge in most parts of the country calls for testing and promotion of a variety of available solutions within the local context, in terms of available energy sources. This underscores the importance of renewable energy as offering a world of possibilities through a variety of available solutions that can address energy access challenge.
Sustainable bio-energy requires participatory involvement of stakeholders and successful pilots need scale-up.
Successful bio-energy exploitation requires creation of local capacity in research and development, enabling environment for investments and a focus on full value chains, (market solutions)