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Kenya: Biofuels a cost effective energy alternative

By Isaac Kalua | Mar 29th 2015 | 2 min read

Can you imagine a scenario where right here in Kenya; it becomes possible to produce reliable, affordable and sustainable transport or industrial fuel from plants or waste material?

But can you also imagine if such fuel ceases to be sustainable and leads to severe undermining of agricultural productivity, food security and social dynamics?

It is time to take the bull by its horns. Biofuels are controversial and often-times, it is easier to shelve biofuel discussion and action for another day. But it’s better to have that discussion sooner rather than later because the energy problem is not going away.

Initially hailed as the fuel David that would slay the Goliath of fossil fuels, biofuels later became perceived as oppressors taking away land and food from people. As I have always specified, I agree that biofuels should never ever be derived from food crops or undermine food security by any percentage, in any shape or form. In addition, biofuels should never compromise environmental and social well-being. However, the tragic teething problems that the biofuel sector has faced both locally and globally should not take a suicidal dive away from this revolutionary sector. As Usain Bolt and all other sprinters would tell us, a false start doesn’t mean that you should give up on sprints. Rather we must learn from the past and forge on even as we continue asking tough questions.

Earlier this month, a group of researchers from the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas developed a new yeast strain that could make biofuel production more economically competitive. The journey from the research labs is of course long and hazardous but holistically speaking, it is a journey worth taking.

In the same vein, a Colorado company is planning to set up a $200 million biofuels refinery in the US State of Oregon. The refinery will produce jet fuel and diesel. A US airline is already waiting to try the jet fuel. Such multi-tier research and development is worth emulating. It is critical for local transport and factory players to team up with environmentalists, entrepreneurs and government officials in the quest for homegrown biofuel solutions. However, players that risk being replaced by those very technologies have traditionally opposed new breakthrough technologies. We should therefore not allow a scenario where many cooks will spoil the biofuel soup mostly because of self-interest.

Indeed, mistakes that may have been made in the formative years of Kenya’s biofuel industry should serve as springboard for an honest conversation and innovative action on biofuels. In this conversation, all biofuel cards and facts should be placed on the table. The winning biofuel formula that will come out of this table will potentially change Africa for the better, both economically and environmentally. In the meantime farmers and customers from central and upper eastern regions of Kenya are already enjoying the proceeds out of sale and use of Croton Nut Oil and Jatropha Seed Oil literally!

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