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Sugarcane bagasse as an alternative renewable energy solution

  • By Mercy Mumo
  • July 26, 2017
  • 0 Comment

Every year, thousands of tonnes of sugarcane waste remain underutilized after cane has been crushed. It is heaped or burned just like most agricultural waste. Previously, there have been numerous small-scale attempts to use sugarcane bagasse, despite it being a difficult raw material to work with due to the post crushing high moisture content and its abrasive nature as a raw material. However, one company in Kisumu has managed to commercialize the use of bagasse to produce a sustainable renewable energy source.

Eighteen months ago, Tamuwa Limited was established by Nils Razmilovic and Nilesh Patel to increase the cane value chain. The company is in the business of recycling sugarcane waste and making bagasse briquettes and pellets.  Apart from reducing the amount of agricultural waste contaminating the environment, it offers a viable alternative renewable energy solution.

Located in Kibos, Kisumu County, the company sources bagasse from the neighbouring sugar factories and dries it at their facility. Tamuwa provides employment to more than 25 men and women with a further 50 or so women working as contractors to dry the raw materials. Having made the required investment in the production process, Tamuwa have the capability to produce in excess of 20,000 tonnes of briquettes a year.  The Tamuwa process ensures that all of the cane is used leaving no waste.

Bagasse briquettes and pellets have a high calorific value, low ash content, low moisture content and are classified as carbon neutral by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Consequentially using briquettes has a positive environmental impact.

“To ensure high quality briquettes, the moisture content of the bagasse should be between 12-14%. This translates to a consistent 9-10% moisture in the final product which is recommended by the Kenya Briquette Manufacturers Association (KBMA),” noted Razmilovic, the Chief Executive Officer.

As a founding member of the KBMA, Tamuwa is happy to provide training to fellow members as its’ contribution towards the knowledge transfer in the industry sector. Adopting the view that a consistent high quality product will enable the sector to grow and the industrial adoption of renewable energy increase.

Having been admitted to the Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC), the company hopes to have some of the sectors challenges addressed. These include influencing policy on the Value Added Tax on green biomass, a wider recognition of the industry sector as true viable alternative energy source to fuel wood and in general more publicity aimed at increasing the awareness around the drivers for climate change in Kenya and the disastrous negative impact it would have on the economy if left unchecked.

As the realization to the challenges faced in the sustainable provision of fuel wood and charcoal grows, more industries are looking to make the move to alternative energy sources that are economically viable, fully renewable and utilize sustainable feed stocks. Tamuwa is set to support this change through the availability of briquettes and pellets in commercial volumes. Continued emphasis and sensitization to the community on the benefits of using bagasse briquettes and pellets is key in making the big shift from wood fuel.

One example of an industry sector in need of change is Kenya’s tea industry.  Tea is Kenya’s largest export providing over 30% of foreign currency coming into Kenya every year keeping the Kenya Shilling stable.  The tea industry uses over 600,000 tonnes of fuel wood every year to dry tea and desperately needs Kenya’s forests to stay intact to ensure the precipitation cycle, vital to the tea crop, continues uninterrupted. 

The company is heavily committed to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and sees the provision of an alternate energy source, commercially or for household consumption, as a key driver to positive change to the benefit of society, tied to favourable economic outcomes.

Tamuwa articulate their mission as providing customer centric enabling solutions through the use of sustainable and renewable resources; everything this reporter has seen would indicate they are well on the way to achieving this.

By Mercy Mumo