Turning Waste Into Fuel

National Geographic 2014 Emerging Explorer and social entrepreneur Sanga Moses quit his job, sold his possessions, and braved ridicule and rejection to launch a clean, sustainable energy initiative in Uganda. Called Eco-Fuel Africa, the program tackles energy, food, and health issues in Uganda to help people and the environment. Watch video below of his fantastic story.

Sanga Moses grew up barefoot in a small Ugandan village of thatched roof dwellings that lacked electricity. Yet he became his clan’s first college graduate and took a bank job in Kampala.

However, when he saw his 12-year-old sister crying on the road because she because she had to collect fuel wood instead of going to school he decided he had to do something about it.

Briquetting machines
He noticed there were less trees near the house he grew up in leaving her sister to walk longer to collect wood. Searching for a solution to problems born of burning wood, Moses quit his job and began learning everything he could about renewable resources. Eventually he came across the increasingly popular practice of turning organic waste into fuel.

With huge piles of sugar cane debris from agriculture left to rot, Moses began working with engineering students to design kilns and briquetting machines.

Four years later, 2,500 farmers use his kilns to turn farm waste – coffee husks and waste from sugar cane and rice – into charcoal. A company that Moses founded, called Eco-Fuel Africa, buys the char and turns it into briquettes for cooking that burn cleaner and cost less than wood.

The company takes those briquettes to market, providing fuel for more than 19,000 Ugandan families.

Social benefits
The problems that wood burning created for Moses’s family and in his hometown can be seen across sub-Saharan Africa. Eight in ten people in the region depend on wood to cook and to heat their homes. As more forests are destroyed to feed that demand—in Uganda, 70 percent of protected forests are gone—families must walk more miles every day to buy increasingly scarce and costly wood.

Families in the developing world spend up to 40 percent of their income on cooking fuel. Besides leaving children with less time for education, it means that poor farmers are less able to afford fertilizer, causing harvests to suffer and malnutrition to rise.

And wood burning takes a huge toll on human health, creating smoky indoor air that leads to respiratory diseases that kill more women and children each year than HIV/AIDS.

Economic benefits
Moses’s cleaner-burning green charcoal reduces indoor air pollution and has already saved more than three million dollars in energy-related expenses for Ugandans. Families use that money to pay school fees for their children, afford three meals a day, and finance new income-generating activities.

Indeed, farmers who work with Eco-Fuel Africa have tripled their incomes by selling char from kilns. The coarser, leftover char is used as fertilizer, which can increase harvests by more than 50 percent and create surplus crops to sell at market.

Moses’s group also battles deforestation, investing profits into planting 12,000 new trees and partnering with local schools to make reforestation part of environmental education.

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