If I gave you $1, but then you had to spend 30 cents of that on cooking fuel alone, what would you cook tonight for your family?
That’s the challenge that Georgetown University students are asking people to consider in their Briqs with Benefits campaign. The mission is to raise funds to produce safer, cheaper, and cleaner briquettes for use as cooking fuel in Kenya. At the center of the project is Dr. Mary Njenga, 2011 Borlaug LEAP Fellow.
For close to a decade now Dr. Njenga has been working with community groups in developing fuel briquettes, a local innovation that provides a cheaper and cleaner source of cooking energy. Fuel briquettes are a concept proven technology that is ready to be scaled-up.
Recently, with support from Borlaug LEAP, Dr. Njenga had the opportunity to demonstrate her innovative biomass briquettes at the first-ever Feed the Future Global Forum. Global leaders from the public and private sector attended the FTF Forum. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced four years of results from President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative at the event.
During the Forum’s Innovations and Best Practices Marketplace, Dr. Njenga gave a live demonstration of the briquette-making technology. The fuel briquettes are created from a simple formula of mixing charcoal dust, water, and a binding agent such as soil, paper, or animal dung. The mixture is shaped by hand, or molded in wooden or metal presses into fist-sized units, which are then air-dried. Her display included a simple press for making briquettes and fuel briquette samples made by women and youth groups in Nairobi, Kenya.
For a video of her presentation, click here.
Biomass energy is the cheapest and most important cooking fuel for families in developing countries. But there are negative health and environmental effects as well as issues of accessibility and affordability associated with the use of firewood and charcoal. Through her research Dr. Njenga has developed a formula for the briquettes that maximizes efficiency and minimizes costs. Results from her studies have proven the multiple benefits of this innovative technology.
- Briquettes made from charcoal dust (80%) and soil (20%) burn more regularly and for 4 hours compared to 2.5 hours for pure charcoal, resulting in energy savings.
- The cost of cooking a traditional meal with biomass briquettes is 3 Kenya Shillings (US$0.04) or nine times cheaper than cooking that same meal with charcoal (26 KSH or US$0.30) and 15 times cheaper than cooking with kerosene (45KSH or US$0.60).
- Briquettes lower household air concentration of carbon monoxide (CO) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to 1/3 and 1/9, of what is emitted by lump charcoal. PM2.5 from charcoal briquettes meet WHO standards.
Women and youth groups are already making briquettes in Kenya. The briquettes have proven to be an income-generating source for the poor. As a post-doctoral fellow at World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Dr. Njenga is now looking at how the work of the Kenyan groups can be scaled up. In order to increase production and incomes, the women need to maximize the use of limited space including compact storage solutions for raw materials and vertical drying racks.
“Based on the results that I have from my research, I’m scaling out the briquette technology to different regions in Africa, I’m developing training materials that are simplified,” said Dr. Mary Njenga during an interview at the recent Feed the Future Global Forum.
The materials being developed not only provide instruction on making the briquettes but also include components on how to turn the briquettes into an enterprise and how to develop a business plan for briquetting. A pilot project to develop a briquette making enterprise has been initiated by UN-Habitat, Human Relief Foundation and Cooperazione E Sviluppo Onlus (CESVI) in Somalia.
Dr. Mary Njenga is a post-doctoral fellow in bioenergy at World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Nairobi, Kenya. She earned a PhD in Management of Agroecosystems and Environment from the University of Nairobi, Kenya where she studied fuel briquette technologies and their implications on greenhouse gases and livelihoods in Kenya. Dr. Njenga’s doctoral work was also affiliated with World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Michigan State University (MSU). Her PhD was supported by the Borlaug LEAP fellowship, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), Agropolis fellowship-IDRC, and ICRAF. Njenga used her USAID Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP) fellowship to evaluate fuel briquette technologies for environmental, social-economic and food security implications in Kenya. She worked with her US mentor, Dr. John Kerr, Michigan State University on the socio-economic cost-benefit analysis of the technology. Her CGIAR mentor Dr. Ramni Jamnadass, ICRAF, provided guidance on the bio-energy aspects of the project.
For more information or to read her published studies, visit Mary Njenga's Borlaug LEAP Profile page.