Trash to Treasure

How biogas is bringing light to Kenyan communities

Is one man’s waste, another man’s power? If you ask Kenyan entrepreneur, Amos Nguru, the answer is yes.

While solar and wind power are popular sustainable energy sources in Africa, Amos is hedging his bets on another source — biogas, a byproduct of human waste.

At his home in Kiserian, Amos elevates bio-digesting — or the breakdown of waste byproducts into biogas that can be converted to energy — into a sustainable art form.

Plant and household waste from his 500 chickens, 3 cows, and 2 goats feeds into a biodigester creating energy for his own house. The byproduct is turned into organic fertilizer and red worms become a rich liquid fertilizer that boosts crop growth in his family’s vegetable garden.

But, Amos has a bigger vision. He dreams of a Kenya that uses biogas to make more affordable electricity and clean cooking gas. So, he founded Afrisol Energy — a startup that builds biodigesters in challenged urban communities. Since 2010, Amos’ company has installed more than 120 biodigesters in homes, businesses and community spaces across Kenya.

FUEL WITH IMPACT

In some of the most impoverished and highly-populated areas of Nairobi, access to power is inconsistent at best. But by investing in biogas plants, Amos is turning trash to treasure.

Students of the Mukuru Kwa Njenga Primary School are experiencing the benefit of this transformational technology firsthand.

With a $100,000 grant from Power Africa‘s Off-Grid Energy Challenge, in partnership with General Electric and the US African Development Foundation, Amos is constructing a bio-latrine facility on campus.

In addition to toilet access — something that some students lack at home — bio-waste collected in these facilities will produce up to 15 kilowatts of electricity a day.

This is enough energy to power lights and computers at the 2,000 student school. Enough power to illuminate 30 households near the school with a high-mast light that will make it safer for nighttime navigation.

These waste sorting chambers outside the bio-latrine facility will hold organics, plastics, metals, and glass for recycling. Students will be encouraged to bring leftover food and garbage from home to recycle at this facility instead of throwing it into their neighborhood.
Gas from a pipe at Amos Nguru’s bio-latrine facility at Mukuru Kwa Njenga Primary School

BRIGHTER FUTURE THROUGH BIOGAS

Amos hopes that lessons about bio-latrines and biogas create more than hot water and steam.

As children at the primary school watch toilet waste transform into gas that heats water, water that evaporates into steam, steam that feeds into the turbines that churn out electricity, they are learning lessons about science, technology and alternate energy.

Not only is Amos imparting knowledge, but also skills that the youth can leverage for future careers. A professional counselor and trainers empower students with an education on how to create biogas systems — a tool that could lead to employment opportunities.

This is just the beginning for power innovation in Africa. With creative people like Amos, energy solutions are being problem solved with resources that are accessible and available in the local community.

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Text by Rudy Gharib, Power Africa Director of Communications; Photos by Morgana Wingard for Power Africa

This story originally appeared on USAID’s Exposure page on July 25, 2015

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