Turning waste into affordable, clean energy

Symphrose Ochieng, 37, has grown up around waste management, which is the line of business her family is in.

Therefore, when she found a business idea that would help her forge her own path in the sector, it was not unexpected.

In 2014, Ms Ochieng figured out a way to turn bio-waste into clean and affordable energy. This led to the founding of Bentos Fuels, which makes charcoal briquettes that can be burnt for industrial and domestic uses. The firm also makes energy efficient stoves.

“I got the idea of making briquettes when I started visiting Nairobi’s Kariobangi, which had plenty of litter everywhere,” she told Business Beat.

Briquetting machines use high pressure to mold loose biomass waste into compact and solid fuel blocks that can be used for cooking, boiling water or heating rooms, among other uses.

Bentos Fuels is among companies in the country that are helping Kenya embrace sustainable development. In a country where industries rely heavily on fossil fuels, green energy options are finding ready acceptance.

Further, according to a study done by Geospatial World, Kenya’s forest cover is just 6.6 per cent. This has seen the Government spearhead renewable energy projects across the country to prevent further depletion and reach the 10 per cent cover target set in the Constitution.

In June, the Government revealed plans to introduce green bonds, whose sale would help fund renewable projects in the country. It has also planned major renewable energy projects, such as the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, and Biofuel production in places like Kieni.

Ochieng is hoping to get households and smaller institutions to be a part of these efforts to save the environment.

Passion to succeed

But she admits that while she had done the research and was clear on the business idea, its implementation would not have happened without her family’s help and a passion to succeed.

Bentos Fuels’ briquettes are made with a special-formulation resin that generates high heat.

“I explored many options that would enable me develop a strong product, a strong brand that would positively impact society,” Ochieng said.

Armed with a degree in engineering and a small fabrication outlet in Kariobangi, she rolled out the briquette-making business. Her capital came from her savings and money from friends and family who believed in her idea.

She also attended business idea forums to attract more financing, the latest being the E4Impact Challenge, run by Business Beat and Tangaza University College. She took second place at the event last month, walking away with Sh210,000 and having increased awareness of her business.

The E4Impact Challenge enables East African innovators to pitch their business projects to a jury of investors, business leaders and accelerators.

Ochieng puts the market potential for her briquettes at Sh28 million a year once business picks up: “We mainly target Eastleigh, Komarock, BuruBuru, Umoja, Huruma, Kariobangi, Dandora among other areas in Nairobi. I try to reach places where the population has a mix of both middle and low-income earners.”

Bentos also sells its products to institutions like schools, hospitals, hotels and restaurants.

“We have a fast-growing clientele, with many referral clients coming on board,” Ochieng said.

Five years from now, she expects Bentos to be a strong brand that is well known across the country, and hopes to have established a modern production unit.