Waste from discarded flowers and high energy costs are key among challenges flower farms grapple with. They invest money and resources in addressing them. It is therefore a big relief to them as a new innovation seeks to provide a solution to the twin challenges.
Championed by QUBE Renewables Ltd, the technology dubbed 'anaerobic digestion' uses bacteria to break down organic matter and generate biogas that can be used for cooking and for electricity generation.
QUBE Renewables Ltd has been working with Oserian Flower Farm to transform heaps of flower waste into energy. The farm, one of the largest Kenyan producers and exporters, discards up to 1,825 tonnes of waste annually, which is either dumped in landfills or composted.
"Although Kenya has a good electricity supply, majority of the population is often off grid especially during the day with a bulk of people not accessing clean fuel. Our philosophy is to turn people's problems, like waste, into solutions," said Jo Clayton, co-founder and director of QUBE.
The system was built and factory-tested in the UK before being shipped and assembled at the farm using local resources. It is made up of 10 containers with each acting as an individual digester, 10 batch reactors, a control room, a laboratory and a workshop. Each reactor can accommodate up to three tonnes of flower waste.
How it works
"The flower waste is turned into compost. All greenhouse gases produced during the process are released into the atmosphere and that is what the anaerobic digestion tries to tackle. The innovation is thought of as a huge factory-scale project but we try to package it down into something small and neat so that it fits into a shipping container and can be put down anywhere in the world," added Jo.
The biogas from the containers is converted into electricity. The other gas is compressed into cylinders and used in Oserian kitchens to prepare meals. Traditionally, the kitchens relied on firewood.
"The transition from firewood to biogas has enhanced efficiency and protected our health. This kind of energy is changing our lives and it is our hope now and, in the future," said Hilary Bett, a chef.
Beatrice Wachira, the site manager at Grants Biotech Ltd said: "We are not only providing biogas for cooking purposes. Our main aim is to provide clean energy that can power entire operations at Oserian."
The innovation comes at a time when the flower industry is grappling with exorbitant energy prices accounting for up to 40 per cent of production costs.
Farms rely on energy to power greenhouses and operate cold rooms among other needs. The high electricity bills coupled with incessant power blackouts have led to huge losses.
The project was supported by Energy Catalyst, an Innovate UK programme that helps early - to late-stage innovators develop market-based technologies and business models that accelerate access to clean, modern and affordable energy in Africa and Asia. Grants Biotech, a Kenyan firm offered technical support and on-site operations while the University of South Wales was the academic partner.