By James Karuga
KISERIAN, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Maasai pastoralists have found an innovative way to generate biogas: using animal blood and waste from the Keekonyokie slaughterhouse.
The facility in Kenya’s Kajiado County uses the gas it produces to generate electricity that powers the meat cold room and processing equipment. It also pipes the gas to local hotels, while the slurry becomes fertilizer for grazing pastures.
Now the Maasai hope to take the project a step further and become the first group in the country to package the alternative fuel into cylinders – and finally make it mobile.
According to project leader Michael Kibue, the group of 320 pastoralists anticipates that by March 2015 they will be selling their Keeko Biogas in 6 kilogram cylinders. Each should cost around Ksh 700 ($8), half the cost of conventional liquefied (LP) petroleum gas.
The slaughterhouse can afford to sell its biogas so cheaply because, with an average 120 cows and 400 sheep and goats slaughtered daily, "raw input is assured and at zero cost," said Kibue.
Even the process of pumping the gas into cylinders costs nothing, he adds, because it's powered by the slaughterhouse's own biogas.
The fuel is also hotter than LP gas “and it is highly combustible, so it allows you to cook faster”, said Erastus Gatebe of the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), which provides technical support on the Keeko Biogas project. Gatebe said biogas can be as much as 30 to 40 percent more energy efficient than propane or butane.
Before it started producing biogas in 2005, the Keekonyokie plant was spending Ksh 36,000 ($400) every week on waste disposal in order to meet standards set by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA).
By generating fuel from its waste and selling what biogas it doesn't need, the slaughterhouse can now expand its revenue sources beyond the sale of meat.
Currently the facility, which sits on 4 acres of land, is capable of generating enough biogas in a day to fill one hundred 6 kg cylinders. According to KIRDI's Gatebe, if the slaughterhouse upgrades its facilities with secondary biogas digesters it can generate three times that amount.
The Kenya Climate Innovation Centre, a World Bank initiative, is providing funding to help with the upgrade.
Kapunei Ole Tunda, chairman of Keekonyokie slaughterhouse, sees environmental as well as economic benefits to selling biogas in cylinders. He believes the venture could help save the trees in and around Maasai villages.
"We cut down a lot of trees for charcoal and we hope to reduce that, since they keep our air clean,” he said.
According to project leader Kibue, buyers have already begun making enquiries about the cylinders of Keeko Biogas. Two women's groups have expressed interest in the product, including one in Nairobi’s Kibera slum that makes yoghurt and wants to cut its energy expenses.
John Maina, the principal renewable energy officer at Kenya’s Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, said the government supports ventures such as Keeko Biogas that reduce the amount of methane escaping into the atmosphere.
Methane, the gas released when animal waste decays, is roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in producing climate change, according to the journal Nature.
India has already seen success in packaging biogas into cylinders. A recent report by India’s Ministry of New and Renewable energy says that 11 projects have so far been commissioned and licensed to package biogas into compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinders.
India's bottled biogas is supplied to hotels and companies for cooking and heating.
According to a 2010 report by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, biogas use in Kenya is currently very small. But the country spends around $900 million a year on off-grid lighting, and fuel-based light sources in the country are responsible for over 2.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year according to the United Nations Environment Program.
The Maasai pastoralists who run Keekonyokie slaughterhouse see a big market for bottled biogas in Kenya. Once KIRDI finishes safety testing of the biogas cylinders, “we start rolling it out”, Kibue said.
(Reporting by James Karuga; editing by Laurie Goering)