Alumnus’ National Geographic blog: Using biomass to revolutionize cooking in East Africa

Friday, November 20, 2015
 
Cleaner-burning biomass fuel briquettes produced by Sanivation to replace firewood or charcoal for cooking. (Photo: Sanivation)
Cleaner-burning biomass fuel briquettes produced by Sanivation to replace firewood or charcoal for cooking. (Photo: Sanivation)
 
     

How can biomass fuel improve lives in Kenya?

Environmental engineering alumnus Andrew Foote says using briquettes made from biomass in cooking — rather than charcoal or firewood — will reduce deaths from indoor air pollution and help stop deforestation.

Foote published a guest blog on National Geographic’s website Nov. 18 highlighting the potential of biomass briquettes to reshape cooking in Kenya.

There have been great strides in energy access in the past 10 years. We now see consumers using pay-as-you-go solar or even $5 off-grid LED lights. To meet heating and cooking needs however, 83 percent of Kenyans still rely on biomass fuel and industries account for nearly 25 percent of charcoal consumption.

The biomass fuel market, until recently, has been severely neglected by global innovators. This is surprising because biomass fuel is a U.S. $500 million dollar market in Kenya, and also unfortunate because this market creates extremely destructive health and environmental impacts.

Every day, Kenyans must choose between two archaic fuels to cook their food:  charcoal or firewood. Both solutions are responsible for deforestation and indoor air pollution, the latter of which is the leading cause of death for children under five globally. Firewood is particularly time- and labor-intensive, while charcoal is capital-intensive—regularly accounting for up to 30 percent of a family’s daily income. The price for each of these fuels is only increasing as forest coverage is dwindling. This situation is not sustainable, and unless something changes there will not be any forests left and respiratory infections will continue to be a leading killer.

It is time for a revolution in the solid fuels sector — and that revolution is charcoal briquettes.

Foote, a 2011 graduate, co-founded Sanivation, a company working to make safe sanitation available to everyone in the world.

Read more of his blog post at National Geographic.