Sustainable Development

This fuel is cheap, sustainable and completely safe - and we make over a million tonnes of it every day

Fuel for the future? Image: WWF/Netflix

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Sustainable Development

  • 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuelwood and charcoal, which also contributes to deforestation.
  • Sanivation collects human waste from special toilets and turns it into sustainable fuel, which improves sanitation and reduces the environmental impact of burning wood.

Kenyan company Sanivation is putting waste to work, thanks to their human-waste briquettes.

But, as Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder Emily Woods explains, you wouldn't know it:

“People question it at first, but our product doesn’t look like faeces, it doesn’t smell like faeces, you wouldn’t know it was unless we told you.”

Have you read?
fuel poo faeces innovation clean energy renewable green sustainability sanitation waste management
A sustainable alternative. Image: WWF/Netflix

The briquettes are providing people in Kenya with a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to firewood and charcoal - saving trees, preventing pollution, improving sanitation and creating local jobs, says Woods.

“In East Africa, the percentage is something like 90% of all residents utilize some solid biomass form daily, so firewood, charcoal, pellets. And because of that deforestation has been a huge problem in Kenya and throughout East Africa.”

Biofuelling the future

More than 2.4 billion people rely on burning wood for cooking, according to 2017 data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Up to 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuelwood and charcoal.

A big part of the problem is unsustainable forest management, which contributes to forest degradation and deforestation.

Globally, around 17% of all the wood used as fuel is converted to charcoal. Greenhouse gas emissions from inefficient and unsustainable uses of charcoal can be as high as 9kg carbon dioxide equivalent per 1kg charcoal produced.

fuel poo faeces innovation clean energy renewable green sustainability sanitation waste management
Emily Woods. Image: Netflix/WWF

Woods says Sanivation realized the amount of carbon and calorific value in human faeces was comparable to that of dried firewood, making it almost a direct - and more sustainable - substitute.

“For every tonne of charcoal of our briquettes that we sell, we save about 88 trees here in Kenya. People are actually purchasing our fuel because of the environmental impact."

fuel poo faeces innovation clean energy renewable green sustainability sanitation waste management
Sanivation’s impacts in 2019. Image: Sanivation

Twice a week, the company collects containers of faecal sludge from around 650 specially designed toilets across Kenya and takes it to treatment facilities. It’s combined with other biomass waste like sawdust and turned into safe, hygienic fuel.

“We call them ‘Mkaa kwa jamii’, which means charcoal for the family. They burn about twice as long as local charcoal and they have about a third of the emissions, specifically carbon monoxide and particulates.”

fuel poo faeces innovation clean energy renewable green sustainability sanitation waste management
Charcoal is currently the preferred energy source. Image: WWF/Netflix

Sanivation says the toilets have improved sanitation for 20,000 people, reducing diarrheal diseases. More than 1,500 tonnes of briquettes have been sold so far to factories, schools, restaurants and households.

“If we could collect all the human waste in Kenya, all the spare agriculture waste, then we could supply almost 50% of the entire charcoal and firewood demand and the deforestation rates would drop substantially.

“The solution we’re providing now is a key stepping stone to fixing some of the immediate needs of deforestation. It’s really exciting.”

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Related topics:
Sustainable DevelopmentEnergy Transition
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