As Kenya’s population and the economy grow, the demand for wood fuel and timber for construction is accelerating. At the moment, Kenya has enough wood to meet only 70 per cent of this demand via sustainable domestic supply. This shortage has led to a national deforestation crisis, which has contributed to massive water shortages across the country. Tea factories use vast quantities of firewood for tea processing. A single tea factory burns the equivalent of 100-150 trees a day to dry and wither tea leaves, putting terrible pressure on Kenya’s forests, which has depleted about 5,000 hectares a year in recent years. This massive demand for firewood has taken a toll on forests, and the use of solid fuels has damaged people’s health (early childhood pneumonia, low birth weight, lung cancer, bronchitis). Kenya counts 21,650 premature deaths yearly caused by exposure to smoke from polluting, open fires, or inefficient fuels. Smoke from firewood and charcoal causes 16,600 deaths in Kenya each year.
In the rural communities and household, more than 84% rely on traditional biomass as their primary energy source for cooking and heating, contributing 69% of firewood and 13% of charcoal. Most small-scale tea farmers use firewood and charcoal to power their stoves and heat their homes in rural Kenya. The Rainforest Alliance has an established ground presence in Kenya. It is now developing a sustainable renewable energy supply chain that complements their other work to support the well-being of tea farmers and communities while decreasing the pressure on Kenya’s threatened forests.
Partnering with Kenya Tea Development Agency under a project dubbed Empowering Rural Communities and Household with Renewable Energy (ERCHRE) The project is planning to prevent the loss of 80,000 trees over four years. As tea factories use lots of firewood (estimated at 29,000 m3 of firewood per year) for tea processing, the project aims to reduce firewood in tea factories by 30%. This will be achieved through a co-firing ratio of 80 of wood-fuel: 20 biomass briquettes.
Why Biomass Briquette.
To maintain the energy level produced from wood fuel, the project sourced alternatives that contained the same caloric value as wood-fuel or more but still environmentally friendly. Research at Boise State University in Idaho, explored both the caloric content and shape to optimize the burn efficiency of the biomass briquettes. The energy content of briquettes ranged from 4.48 to 5.95 kilojoule per gram (kJ/g) depending on composition, whereas the energy content of sawdust, charcoal and wood pellets ranged from 7.24 to 8.25 kJ/g. This resulted in the energy produced when properly moulded biomass briquettes when combusted being comparable to traditional fuels.
Image of Biomass Briquettes.
Impact of the project.
1.Solar Energy Consumption
Since the program started, 14,176 households have switched to briquettes, solar energy, and efficient cookstoves:
2. Household Energy Centers
Seven community-based (Household Energy Centers (HECs), where the briquettes are made on-site, and farmers can buy low-cost briquettes, have already been established. Efficient biomass cookstoves and solar lighting products are already for sale.
The Rainforest Alliance has trained seven entrepreneurs who run the HEC’s, who are supported in the production by 21 employees. The project has recruited 22 entrepreneurs to sell cookstoves and solar lighting across the landscape to promote renewable energy in places far from HECs.
Co-firing sensitization training of both regional and factory management, onsite training and demonstration of the factory operations team and boiler technicians was held successfully and saw a total of 265 individuals trained. Out of the initial 12 pilot factories participating in the project, six factories showed interest totalling to 18 factories now using briquettes.
4. Trees in the tea landscape
Also under the project KTDA (The Kenya Tea Development Agency) has established tree nurseries in 12 factories aiming to have over 1,000,000 trees within a year. Twelve tree nurseries with at least 100,000 seedlings each. The project targets to grow over 1,000,000 trees in the tea landscape for one year with 500,000 seedlings ready for plantation.