Alex Otrato and Boniface Miano from Nairobi always dreamed to find a solution to two of the main environmental issues affecting their home county: the huge amount of waste lying around in the streets, and the severe deforestation caused by the increasing number of people who use wood from wild trees and bushes for their heating and cooking needs. With the help from four friends, Alex and Boniface turned these challenges into a unique market opportunity. By using garbage to create a clean, bio-waste based charcoal, they found an innovative way to get rid of the excess of waste left on the streets while providing the poor with an affordable and environmentally friendly source of energy.
The two entrepreneurs have developed an innovative oven that utilizes urban garbage as fuel and carbonizes plant-based waste, such as sugarcane and corn “leftovers,” at a temperature of around 1000 degrees Celsius. The char is then collected and pressed into small briquettes that can be used in any stove as a clean energy source. “Our product is an improvement on many levels,” says Miano. “It reduces the need to cut trees for firewood and it does not release toxic smoke and carbon monoxide like regular charcoal.”
With technical support and business advice from the KCIC, Alex and Boniface’s idea became a business reality in 2013. In April, seeking the support of the KCIC, the two entrepreneurs submitted their idea to the center’s first Proof of Concept. The proposal was accepted and their new green enterprise, Garbchar, was introduced to the Kenyan market a few months later.
“The CIC helped us with the testing of our prototypes and the request of a Kenya-based patent for our oven and its cylindrical chimney,” states co-founder Alex Otrato. The CIC provided the young entrepreneurs also with management training and prime networking opportunities, including the international Climate Technology Workshop held in Nairobi this week.
“I feel everyone wins with our product; the environment, because we use urban waste to limit deforestation, and low-income consumers, because we offer an affordable and energy-efficient product,” adds Miano. Though the company’s start-up phase is tough and a lot of work still needs to be done, Otrato and Miano believe in their dream and in the way the “Garbchar” briquettes are already improving the local energy market. One kilo of briquettes costs 50 Kenyan Shilling (around 60 Dollar cents), which is 10% cheaper than regular charcoal; furthermore, according to the two entrepreneurs, it burns more than twice as long, representing also a significant improvement in terms of energy efficiency.