Turning Cow Dung Into Affordable Energy

Meet the Kenyan Innovator Who

What if the dung of one cow could light your stove, charge your phone, and illuminate your home? It sounds a little crazy to most of us, but to Dominic Wanjihia it sounded like a brilliant business idea.

The founder and CEO of Biogas International developed the Flexi Biogas system to do exactly that. Users simply feed cow poop, kitchen waste, and even human excrement into the balloon-shaped device. The waste is broken down, and out comes gas, which is used for energy, and a potent fertilizer.

Since 2011, Biogas International has installed hundreds of Flexi Biogas systems and changed the lives of many rural women, who used to spend hours each day looking for firewood. The company has installed the system in schools, lodges, and children’s homes. It’s also saving the environment since users recycle waste instead of burning charcoal or cutting down trees for wood.

AkilahNet’s Peter Musa caught up with Wanjihia to learn more about this innovative energy source and his plans for the future.

What motivated you to start Flexi Biogas?  

The Maasai community, which lives within the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve and its environs, are known for harmoniously living with nature and wildlife. But I noticed they were slowly depleting the trees that held their unique ecosystem together.

The community cut trees to discourage predators, such as leopards, from coming near their sheep and goats. However, the truth of the matter was the trees they cut down were roasted for charcoal.

I have a sister who is a conservationist and knew that I was gifted in creating things. She asked if I could do something to reverse the looming environmental degradation. Hence, the Flexi Biogas idea was born.

What is Flexi Biogas?

This is a system that generates biogas out of animal or organic waste. In making biogas, a compartment known as a digester is fed with raw dung that is mixed with water at a ratio of one to one.

Under air-tight conditions, the dung breaks down in a slow process that takes several days, allowing for a thorough release of the gas from the dung. The dung residual (bio-slurry) is released at the end of the process. It is a highly nutritious and sterile natural fertilizer with minerals ready for absorption by plants. The biogas, on the other hand, is tapped out of the processor through specialized pipes to a domestic storage facility.

A Flexi Biogas system. Photo courtesy of Biogas International.

What do you do with the biogas?

It can be used for cooking and as a source of power for lighting, radio, TV, charging phones, and other gadgets. However, to convert the biogas to electrical power, you need to connect it to a BioDC Gen-set. The Gen-set will charge automotive batteries that will store power.

Where are you marketing Flexi Biogas?

In Kenya as well as East Africa. In Rwanda, I have four employed installers who fix it for women and farmers. I am aiming for Mali, Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria.

The greatest challenge is that African governments have yet to see the trickle-down effects of biogas as a clean green energy. These positive effects range from controlling respiratory diseases associated with soot-emitting fuels, such as wood, to improved efficiency in waste management. Biogas can even power farm equipment.

How do you sell the Flexi Biogas?

We have marketing agents who promote the technology to farmers and women. We have two models with capacity for processing six and nine cubic meters of biogas. They cost Ksh61,000 and Ksh76,000, respectively. We have a website, www.biogas.co.ke where people can find more information on their own.

A client pouring waste into a Flexi Biogas system. Photo courtesy of Biogas International.

How did you discover you were a gifted creator?

Since I was four, I would blow things up and get an electric shock.

Parents who have children who like dismantling items should get them a complete set of things to dismantle because they are honing their skills on how things are made.

How has formal education shaped your talent?

I went to St. Mary’s Boys High School in Nairobi, one of the famous high schools in Kenya. However, no school or even university teaches you how to be creative — this is something in you.

Parents who have children who like dismantling items should get them a complete set of things to dismantle because they are honing their skills on how things are made.

So I have always suffered the notion that to be creative or useful in society, you must have a pile of degrees on top of your head! This notion has killed many talents that would have made a significant difference in poverty alleviation in Africa and the world.

When are you the happiest?

My happy moments are when I leave Karen, a leafy suburb in Nairobi, to install Flexi Biogas systems for poor women in remote villages.

I am happier when I revisit them or they come to me to say that the Flexi Biogas I installed for them has eliminated smoke in their house, and they don’t waste their productive time looking for firewood but spend it on their farms. It’s even better when they ask me to install a larger capacity Flexi Biogas to run some economic activities with it.

Your saddest moment?

Is when I remember the suit-and-tie officers who had little or no interest in what I was trying to patent. This delayed my goal to create something that is now solving the energy problems facing marginalized people, who are more than willing to partner with others in improving their lot.

What would you tell Africa policymakers?

They should have faith in homegrown technology. Technology that is developed by Africans themselves is going change their economy without aftershocks because it is the wearer of the shoe that knows where it pinches.

We have seen so often the North-South technology failing to work because of lack of ownership by the locals. We Africans know the gaps and what we need to create and improve to mitigate those gaps.

What next with your Flexi Biogas?

To my delight, the system has been tested by the India Institute of Technology, which said it was a very unique and easily adaptable technology. This was very significant, as I can now market the technology throughout the world without any challenges about its effectiveness.

If the Flexi Biogas system is installed in schools, hotels, or large institutions, human waste can be used to generate biogas, leaving the waste sterile of any disease-causing organisms and reducing the risk of communicable diseases. Water used to flush toilets can be reused for toilets.

Where do you see yourself in the coming years?

I will still be creating! I want to hand over Flexi Biogas to the marketers as I go back to my core background: creating. I am not a marketer, and neither should I do everything. At the moment, Flexi Biogas is eating into my time to return to the drawing board and create more.

What would you say of innovators and inventors — is this a good time to be one?

They are in a hole! There is no ready support from fellow Africans, who believe in imported things. But they must form groups that will consolidate their power and become important drivers of their prototypes.

They must join arms with campaigners who believe in their effort and gather the courage to technologically revolutionize the continent and improve lives. They must soldier on and not compromise their well-deserved right for the protection of their intellectual property against predators.



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