The demand for energy in Kenya is increasing for households, businesses and industry. Increasing populations, aggressive deforestation, expanding economies and a lack of regulation have led to increasing fuel prices and shortages, which often hits hardest the households and businesses most in need. Approximately 82% of the population cooks with biomass (wood and charcoal). Biomass fuels are also used for many institutional, commercial, and industrial applications; such as cooking in hotels and restaurants, space heating for poultry farmers, and heating applications in industrial boilers.
With such a high dependence on fuel wood and charcoal for both households and business in Kenya it is not surprising that the country has experienced continued loss of forested areas over the past two decades.
Briquettes offer an alternative fuel for many of these applications. Biomass briquettes are a form of solid fuel that can be burned for energy. They are created by compacting loose biomass residues into solid blocks that can replace fossil fuels, charcoal and natural firewood; for domestic and institutional cooking and industrial heating processes.
Although the briquettes technology has been in Kenya for many years, most schools visited by the Kuni Safi team, that used firewood, had not heard about briquettes.
Acacia Innovations, founded by Elana Laichena, has been providing an eco-friendly and reliable alternative to firewood for schools and small businesses called Kuni Safi briquettes since October 2016. She had extensive experience in the briquettes industry in Kenya, and decided to venture out when she noted that other briquette manufacturers were either primarily targeting small-scale households or large-scale factories. She jumped on this huge opportunity to serve this market segment which included schools, hotels, and restaurants, which consume over 685,000 tonnes of wood fuel per year.
Kuni Safi is made from 100% sugarcane waste (bagasse). It has the highest energy and lowest ash content of any waste material available in Kenya. It is nearly smokeless after the first five minutes of lighting, in any institutional energy saving jiko.
Through top quality demonstrations and customer trainings, Kuni Safi team is able to retain a solid customer base by offering excellent customer service and after-sales support, and reliably delivering on-time. The effectiveness of the training has ensured that customers no longer use firewood.
Elana notes, “Customers have been able to save an average of 35% on their cooking fuels budget. The extra money could be added to the student food budget, to take the burden of increased lunch fees from parents. It is enough to purchase an extra 2500 kilogrammes of dry maize and 1000 kilogrammes of dry beans.”
An example is M.M. Chandaria Primary School a public school in Baba Dogo, Nairobi that hosts 1200 pupils. Since switching to Kuni Safi from firewood, they have reduced their fuel costs by 37%. They have substituted a full 7-tonne lorry of firewood with only 2 tonnes of Kuni Safi. According to the Head Teacher, Madam Joyce Kamau, “Kuni Safi has really helped us. There is no smoke. We do not want anything to do with smoke because it affects our health. We are so impressed.”
The Cateress Madam Pamela adds “It is easy to use and preserves the fire for longer (than firewood).”
Their business model has allowed them to become cash flow positive in their first year of operation, having sold over 600 tonnes of briquettes to over 100 schools and small businesses. Since there is more production capacity than demand for briquettes in Kenya, Acacia Innovations decided to focus on sales and distribution, rather than building another briquetting plant.
They aim to grow the market for briquettes on behalf of all manufacturers by building a national brand of Kuni Safi. Acacia Innovations has partnered with several briquette producers and have worked with their manufacturing partners to find the best quality of briquettes for schools. Acacia perform their own quality control on all briquettes, and package them in 40kg sacks under their own brand name of Kuni Safi.
Through the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC), Acacia Innovations has participated in a 6-month mentorship programme designed to close business gaps. According to Elana, “The mentorship has been helpful to us in identifying potential risks and brainstorming how to address challenges and reach the next level.”
Looking to the future, Acacia Innovations is working with a cookstove manufacturer to design an energy saving cookstove for restaurants which is optimized for Kuni Safi briquettes. They plan to offer the cookstove to restaurants for a small down payment, to be paid over time through the weekly purchase of Kuni Safi.
The briquettes are a real solution to climate change mitigation, by reducing deforestation, a practice that has already destabilized agricultural practices and intensified extreme weather in Kenya. For every tonne of Kuni Safi briquettes, 25 trees and 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) are saved.
By Michelle Mung’ata