‘Our green stoves eliminate water hyacinth, save women’s lives’

Green Energy Biofuels (GEB) would be the spin off of Africa’s first cellulosic BioEthanol Gel for clean cookstoves project of SMEFUNDS. It’s an innovative clean technology company that started in 2011 with a demonstration plant of annual production of 72K litres per year.

Femi Oye is the co-founder/CEO of SMEFUNDS that won a grant from African Development Bank Sustainable Energy Fund to develop a social marketing platform for clean technologies – cook stoves, energy efficiency and solar PV system in a bid to bring an end to kerosene usage by the year 2020. In this interview with Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, he bares his mind on the pet project; plans to bring renewable energy to the masses, improve social, economic and environmental conditions in Africa.

Precisely in 2013, your Ethanol Biogel and KiKe cook stoves project won African Development Bank Sustainable Energy Fund $580,000 for the first-ever West African Forum for Clean Energy Financing (WAFCEF) grant. Five years after, what has become of this initiative?
Green Energy Biofuels (GEB) would be the spin off of Africa’s first cellulosic BioEthanol Gel for clean cookstoves project of SMEFUNDS. It’s an innovative clean technology company that started in 2011 with a demonstration plant of annual production of 72K litres per year. The initiative has evolved into one of the fastest growing cookstoves company and displaced harmful kerosene with more than 10,000,000 litres of bio-fuel cooking gel equivalent. GEB has sequestrated over 600,000MT of carbon dioxide emission, empowered some 38,000 women entrepreneurs across its 28 distribution centres, created 1,054 direct jobs and some 45,000 indirect jobs in the past five years.

With an ongoing 10K liter per day biofuel gel production facility in Lagos, it has business presence in Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, the Gambia, Senegal and Benin Republic had enabled GEB to position as the preferred energy for the future now serving more than 600,000 households across the market.Green Energy Biofuels manufactures and distributes an innovative, smoke-free cook stove that utilizes an environmentally-friendly fuel gel. The Bio gel, developed from cellulosic ethanol made from water hyacinth and sawdust is safer, cleaner and cheaper than kerosene and burns more efficiently, giving families not only a safer cooking environment but also 80 percent in savings over wood fuel.

What was your motivation for providing clean, safe and affordable energy? What is the prospect of the initiative in eliminating water hyacinth in Nigerian waters and global warming?
The pain of living with the knowledge of loosing my grand mother to an extensive unchecked exposure of dark and dangerous wood fuel just because there were no cleaner alternatives. Nearly, half the world’s households prepare their daily meals over open fires or inefficient cookstoves, fueled by wood, charcoal, coal, and other solid fuels. Breathing in smoke caused by everyday cooking is responsible for the premature deaths of almost two million people worldwide, primarily women and children, each year. Cookstoves smoke contributes to a range of chronic illnesses and acute health impacts such as early childhood pneumonia, emphysema, cataracts, lung cancer, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and low birth weight.
We produce a bio-ethanol cooking gel from water hyacinth, sawdust and other agricultural biomas wastes – These wastes threatens the ecosystem, prevents trade and it is a major barrier for developing an effective ocean transportation network that could potentially help emerging green growth built cities improve mobility across emerging economies. The amount of water hyacinth footprint on South-West Nigeria coastal sea area alone exceeds 20 million tons of harvest every year. The elimination of this invasive weed for alternative productive use will help the regions create more jobs, lower deforestation, improve to unlock new ocean-economies and provide a sustained energy security for a million households originally depending on wood fuel and other dangerous Kerosene and LPG for cooking.GEB’s KiKe is a green cookstove, a simple, yet affordable cookstove. We have contributed to recycling waste materials, especially sawdust and water hyacinth. Solution in building low carbon economy, green growth and deliver on Sustainable Development Goal for the low income households in Africa.

How is the biofuel gel manufactured? What have been the responses to your cookstoves and clean ethanol gel in West Africa? Does the Green Energy and Biofuels initiative supports entrepreneurship?
The KIKE Green Cook is great and a high-performing stove. It provides a significant health benefit to families otherwise dependent on dirty – solid fuels – kerosene, wood, dung, crop residues, charcoal, even coal – by eliminating dangerous smoke and gases from the home. There are no harmful particulate matters released like kerosene, non- pressurized and non-toxic gel makes explosions impossible. The biofuel gel will not burn ones skin, even if it comes into direct contact after cooking and does not splatter when in contact with water while cooking.

Supporting, empowering and developing entrepreneurs was designed as a central go-to-market approach to achieving scale and rapid adoption of our cooking fuel. Having developed over 45,000 entrepreneurs in the last seven years; Our green ambassadors develop a portfolio for their energy business while sharing, educating and distributing the biogel fuel to their customers. The company has given opportunities to more than 5,000 trained and empowered women to start their own business, and also enable them to participate in capacity development program across the world.

Estimates show that 95,000 women die annually from indoor air pollution. Cook stoves are touted as the solution, has your stoves prevented women from walking long distances in search of fuel for cooking?
Despite the enormous wealth in energy resources, the vast majority of the Nigerian population is not only extremely poor economically, but energy poor as well. An estimated 84 per cent of households lack access to quality domestic energy, transport and lighting fuels. This situation compels families to depend wholly on inferior and health-damaging wood, petrol and kerosene fuel. With these overwhelming indicators it is clear that the population in Nigeria is desperate for clean energy. The use of kerosene has been plagued by a corrupt distribution system, long queues, poor quality and condensate–laden kerosene that burns with high emissions of soot and particulate matter. Contaminated kerosene has continued to claim lives in Nigeria. GEB will provide a cleaner, safer and sustainable alternative to the current domestic and transport fuel situation. Without a clean fuel, desperately poor families must either buy expensive charcoal or kerosene or walk for miles seeking scarce firewood. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, at over 3.7per cent per year. In the evenings, women can be seen returning home after a long day’s drudgery of gathering, carrying enormous bundles of fuel wood on their head. In the urban centers, up to 9per cent of households depend on kerosene to supplement fuel wood.

With the recent increase in prices of gas for cooking, how cheap is your product compared to the use of gas? How acceptable has the cook stoves and clean ethanol gel to households in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin?
The estimated potential demand for biofuel in Nigeria is over $2.2 billion, roughly three billion litres yearly. The company’s scale-up would enable the biofuel to be sold at less than the price of kerosene. Thus, capturing less than 0.5per cent of the potential Nigerian market will utilize all capacity of green energy and biofuels scaled-up operations.

Currently, the demand for ethanol in Nigeria is ten times larger than the supply. Over 98per cent of ethanol available is imported into the country. In addition, we estimate the potential market for ethanol domestic and transport fuel in Nigeria alone to be over N400 billion per annum. Green energy and biofuels is poised to build a 10 per cent market share by the year ending December 2020, in the Bio Ethanol fuel market and aims to branch out into different markets for transport and industrial applications of bioethanol in the future. A vast majority of the users of LPG and kerosene expressed dissatisfaction with the current source(s), largely because of their high cost, non-availability, the negative environmental impact and the concomitant effect on human health.

SMEFUNDS took another big leap towards deepening the penetration of renewable energy through a BlockChain Technology by installing stand-alone roof top solar PV that will generate electricity. What is the project all about? When do you plan to launch out in Nigeria?
Our vision is to create a strong, democratic, grass-roots movement to bring renewable energy to the masses and improve social, economic and environmental conditions in Africa. SMEFUNDS will deliver Stand Alone RoofTop Solar to the marketplace on a cost competitive basis. This makes us highly unique amidst the renewable energy landscape and places us perfectly to minimize our dependence upon foreign and fossil fuels; install more environmentally friendly electricity-generating assets. Solar PV technology will play a major role in bridging Nigeria’s energy deficit gap with shorter implementation cycle, Proven technology, falling cost per Watt and strong political interest. The journey to delivering the initial 10,000 free solar home system has started with free reservations. The first delivery will happen by first quater of 2019.

The OneWattSolar Initiative of SMEFUNDS Foundation offer homeowners free solar installation with a flexible rental or Pay as You Go plan. How affordable will it be for households?
One Watt Solar pays for, installs, owns and operates the Solar Home System (SHS). All you do is pay for your monthly electricity usage from your panels. Your contract rate for this electricity is based on the outcome of your energy audit plus your average carbon footprint for your utility during the prior year.
We “lock in” this rate so that it never goes up for the entire duration of the contract, up to 10 years. We give you back your power, you produce your own electricity, and you keep the savings every month.

Here are some of the benefits you receive:
No upfront equipment investment
No waiting for discount or solar to become cheaper
One Watt Solar obtains all permits and handles engineering, procurement, and construction.
You only pay for what is delivered. Since the solar power you generate reduces your need for energy from your generator or PHCN, your net payment will be equal to, or less than, what you are paying now
Hassle-free operating and maintenance
Hedge against future PHCN or fuel price increases; we lock-in your electricity rates from the solar system for up to 10 years

Your rent for a SHS is based on the size of your system and how much power it generates. Since the fuel supply (sunlight) is free and very little maintenance is required throughout its lifetime of about 50 years, One Watt Solar rents to you at a fixed pre determined rate for the contract period you sign up for one, or 10 years. Your SHS rate is “locked in” at the time of signing an SRA.

One Watt Solar engineers design a SHS system that will meet your exact needs based on your electricity usage, obtains the permits, procures the equipment, installs the system, and integrates it with your other energy sources at home (Generators or PHCN).
One Watt Solar monitors your SHS electronically to make sure it performs at its optimum capability. We have a vested interest with the performance of your SHS. If it doesn’t generate electricity, you pay nothing!

At the end of each month, One Watt Solar will provide you with a bill that tells you how much electricity your SHS has generated. Your rent is equal to your contract rate times the electricity generated.

One Watt Solar has designed a business that delivers the SHS to you under the best possible conditions. One Watt Solar uses only the best grade components to make up the SHS. It is professionally installed and maintained by our team of dedicated engineers and technicians. And with a performance-based rental contract, you receive the strongest form of system warranty available.
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