Eco-cooking fuel projects win top award

WAFCEF Missi Davis

12 November 2013, Sweetcrude, London – A pioneering initiative to create a safer cooking fuel for families in Nigeria has won a top award, in competition with clean energy projects serving communities across West Africa.

SME Funds Green Energy and Biofuels, Nigeria, took the overall prize for a business plan at the West Africa Forum for Clean Energy Financing, held in Accra. The winning project involves developing an ethanol biofuel made from sawdust from Lagos saw mills and water hyacinths, which can be used for cooking instead of kerosene or firewood. This fuel is said to empower women and save lives, as well as helping to combat climate change.

Femi Oye, CEO of SME Funds, said people were “hungry for alternatives to kerosene”. He said that 100,000 people are dying every year because of indoor air pollution, which the new biomass fuel is trying to address. Oye has previously said: “We want to actually switch people from the old way of cooking, thereby preserving many lives which would have been lost through inhaling carbon monoxide, and through spills of kerosene and smoke.”

Community Business Model
Over 70 projects were originally submitted for the awards, with the top 10 being considered by an international judging panel before the winner was named as West Africa’s best clean energy investment opportunity . More than 100 financiers and major financial institutions took part in the initiative, which aimed to allow organizers of eco-friendly projects to pitch to potential investors.

More than half a million litres of the new cooking gel have already been produced in Nigeria, and the aim now is to invest $28 million in stepping up production of both the oil itself and the “clean cookstove” which is fueled by the product. The gel is clean in use as well as in environmental terms, and does not spill easily, reducing the danger of fires being caused by cooking and, Oye has said, making it possible for children to help with preparing meals.

So far, it is estimated that 200,000 households in Nigeria and Ghana have started to use the biomass fuel, but Oye said he hopes distribution will now expand to other areas of West Africa and eventually reach as many as 10 million people across the whole region. SME Funds is distributing the fuel and cookstoves through “green ambassadors” who sign up with its Carbon Credit Network.

Their task is to spread information about the products, as well as setting up their own small businesses to sell them. Around 15,000 people, including many women who are keen to see safer cooking products available, have so far signed up to sell the cookstove and biofuel, and social marketing is being used to recruit more.

Energy From Waste
One of the major advantages of the ethanol biofuel is that it is made from the vast supplies of waste sawdust from mills, which would otherwise have to be burned, contributing to greenhouse gas pollution. There is also concern over the amount of sawmill waste which ends up polluting Nigeria’s waterways, and posing a threat to fish. A number of efforts have been launched to turn the waste into safe green energy and make it serve communities rather than damaging them. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has reported on projects to make use of the mountains of sawmill waste, including the creation of briquettes which can be used as fuel.

Now the development of the biofuel gel is offering another way of making use of the waste from the mills, which conserves precious resources and is helping to promote a cleaner and greener lifestyle for communities within cities such as Lagos. The three runners-up chosen at the Clean Energy Financing forum were the Wave2O Project by Resolute Marine, which uses wave power for desalination in Cape Verde, Azuri, which distributes solar lighting in Sierra Leone, the Moyamba 11 MW Hydro Project, which is constructing a small hydro power project in Sierra Leone. All the 10 finalists were given expert mentoring to help them strengthen their business plans and work out convincing strategies for growth in order to help them succeed in pitching for the finance they need to expand.

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