The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Briquettes Offer Alternative to Pricey Charcoal

Susan Bukirwa, working with Centenary bank, has always had a fuel crisis at her home in Nansana.

Every month, she had to buy a sack of charcoal at about Shs 60,000 that would usually not take her through a month. Not only was the charcoal expensive, Bukirwa also had to bear the soot, smoke and intoxication in the house. But for the last two months, Bukirwa's life has undergone a transformation. When a friend introduced her to carbonized charcoal briquettes (made by Green Bio Energy (GBE) (ltd), her cooking experience has since changed.

Today, Bukirwa simply pays Shs 35,000 for a 50 - kilogramme sack of charcoal briquettes and her family is sorted for the next month.

"These briquettes are really good, they neither give out smoke nor soot and they burn three times longer than ordinary charcoal. We can use just one sack for a full month," she says.

"Ever since I started using them, I do not think I can fall back to the old dirty [wood] charcoal."

The organic carbonized charcoal briquettes are a source of fuel made out of charcoal dust, organic waste and agricultural residue. Dorias Okello, the public relations officer for GBE, says the company, which started in 2011, has the objective of extending the importance of using alternative and environmentally friendly energy sources, which is in line with the 2007 renewable energy policy that seeks to increase the use of modern renewable energy from 4% in 2007 to 61% by the year 2017.

In this case, the company collects garbage from various areas such as Bwaise, Mpererwe, Bweyogerere and Kiteezi dumping site, which is then sorted, dried and crushed/carbonized and transformed into briquettes (branded Briketi) at their production site in Kabembe, Mukono.

"We currently use both charcoal dust and organic waste in making these briquettes, but our objective is to concentrate on organic waste" Okello says.

The company connects with the various charcoal - selling spots in Kampala for the supply of charcoal dust.

Conserving the environment

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), between 1990 and 2005, Uganda lost 26% of its forest cover (78% in areas around Kampala) and the National Environment Management Authority's (NEMA) report "The state of environment Uganda 2008" predicted that such deficit would lead to complete depletion of the nation's forests by 2050.

The more Uganda's forests have been depleted, the higher the price of wood charcoal has gone up. The 2009/2010 household survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics revealed that in Kampala alone, 76% of the population use charcoal as their main source of fuel for cooking. Today, a sack of charcoal costs between Shs 55,000 and Shs 70,000 - up from Shs 30,000 back in 2008.

This is a price trend Green Bio Energy wants to reverse.

"We realized that wood charcoal was the most commonly used fuel source by households in urban setting, and identified a need to find alternative solutions to the use of charcoal since it is the biggest contributing factor to deforestation and soil erosion," notes Ronan Le Moguen, CEO Green Bio Energy.

"Through our research, we identified that there is a lot of dirt/garbage in Kampala, which could be put to good use, and the availability of recyclable charcoal dust."

Totally Ugandan

According to the GBE site manager, Enoth Twesigye, all the machinery and personnel in the company is wholly Ugandan.

"We built this briquette machine with inputs all made in Uganda," he says.

The existing machine has got a capacity of two tons per day and the produced briquettes take about seven days of drying to be ready for the market. The company currently impacts on the lives of over 100 people including direct employees, trainees, agents, and suppliers of organic waste.

Moguen believes the company's future is bright. "Feedback has been good, people are appreciating the product. Many restaurants, hotels and poultry brooders are taking our briquettes on," he explains.

There are 24 agents across Kampala and Mukono but Moguen hopes for 50 agents by the end of the year. Okello says that by December 2012, the GBE products will be available at petrol stations like Total (Bugolobi, Ntinda, Nsambya etc) as well as the big supermarkets in the city.

The future plan is to get to all parts of Uganda and across East Africa because all of these areas need energy - saving technology that can help conserve the environment and employ more people.

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