Tawanda Chitiyo boasts neither of a fancy university degree nor any other such tertiary qualification. But the 30-year budding entrepreneur from Mutare has a sharp eye for business. He knows just when the time is right - and now was the right time to turn waste into energy
Chitiyo describes himself simply as "an entrepreneur and a climate change enthusiast," with no prior experience in project development or management. It is easy, and very tempting, to dismiss the youthful entrepreneur as an amateur feigning humility to gain support.
But using his street-horned skills, Chitiyo has put together a team of experts that has come up with a formidable project plan to build what he termed a 'bio-refinery' in Mutare, producing gas, electricity and diesel from human waste, at a cost of $10 million.
Working in partnership with the Harare Institute of Technology's Climate Change Research Centre and Astra Innovations, a German technological firm, Chitiyo has agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Mutare to convert thousands of kilogrammes of human excreta at the Sakubva and Yeovil waste treatment plant into something useful.
The project, four years in the making, will be implemented by Tawanda Energy Ltd, a company named after himself, where Chitiyo is managing director, and specialising in "energy, biofuels, petrochemicals, and... community scale bio-refineries."
It has received endorsements and regulatory approval from the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority, electricity supplier ZETDC as well as from Rodan Engineering Company, a German engineering firm who are to supply the equipment.
We have got to admit, Chitiyo's project sounds optimistic, too good to be true for something valued at just $10 million. In the interview below, we ask him to explain his project plan in detail, as well as how far he intends to go with similar work.
Tell us, what exactly do you plan to do with Mutare's waste?
We plan to build a bio-refinery. A bio-refinery is a waste to energy plant similar to the oil refinery. The difference is that our products are made from sewage sludge, which are renewable, and not crude oil. Our vision and mission is to be driving force for social, environmental, and economic benefits by producing gaseous, and liquid climate-neutral energy carriers.
Why a bio-refinery?
It's cheap and clean. Raw materials are locally available. At first we were interested in biogas alone. The project expanded after further research and discussions with our partners who advised that we explore all potential opportunities available in the management of sewage sludge as a resource.
How will it work? What will be the outputs
We want to set up a smart city project in the city of Mutare that is adapted to our geographical, cultural, and economic characteristics. The project will convert 48 tonnes of sewage sludge through a process of advanced thermal distillation into the following fuels
9,1 million litres per year of diesel which is one percent of the market share. Potential savings of US$2 million per annum will be achieved from cheaper diesel supplies.
803 tonnes of natural gas per year which is 2,7 percent of the local gas market share. We plan to introduce it as substitute for liquefied petroleum gas. Potential annual savings from gas are estimated at US$500 000.
A combined total of 3 megawatts of electricity will be generated
We will also produce 2 409 tonnes of carbon char to be used as a substitute for firewood, charcoal and coal.
You have already got the money to get the project running?
No. Not yet. We are currently in the process of looking for seed capital. We have approached the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to facilitate the granting of a sovereign guarantee from Government, which would assist us to secure funding without collateral.
How long will it take to build the refinery before bringing it online?
It could take between 6 to 9 months, should we manage to get everything in place. It is a modular plant, so all the components are shipped in complete. Only the assembling takes place here.
In what way does your project respond to the environmental and climate change challenges faced by Zimbabwe today?
This is a waste to energy process, which functions within the non-hazardous waste management hierarchy and all the fuels produced are to the international standard for such fuels.
Our project is sustainable and does not pollute water, land or air. We will not use any chemicals or any other raw material except sewage sludge. So, our final diesel is biodegradable and sulphur-free. We estimate that the biogas part of the project will avoid the equivalent of 10 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. We have contracted experts to determine the full emissions reduction potential of the entire project.
God is faithful.