Energy crops: healthier, more efficient, cheaper and cleaner than charcoal
The Green Elephant is working towards the production of cheap and clean fuel in Uganda. The company is using the leftover stalks of energy crops to make briquettes and pellets, which households can use as a more environmentally friendly alternative to charcoal in their stoves. The leaves on the stalks are used to produce animal feed.
Rogier Buker, Managing Director of The Green Elephant: 'More than 85 percent of Ugandan households cook with charcoal. As it takes eight kilos of wood to produce just one kilo of charcoal, this is an inefficient fuel that pollutes the atmosphere. Because of the huge demand for charcoal, tree felling in Uganda is progressing at such a rate that total deforestation is a real threat outside the national parks. This would have far-reaching consequences, including climate change and soil erosion. People are also being forced to travel greater distances to gather the wood they need. This is time that they could use far more productively, for example on work or education.'
The Green Elephant wants to use the briquettes and pellets produced from energy crops to offer an attractively priced alternative to charcoal that does not require the large-scale felling of forests and drastically reduces CO2 emissions. Buker: 'It is vital that the price of briquettes and pellets is low, as this is the only way that people will be willing to switch to a sustainable fuel.'
We have set up a farm where we carry out research on energy crops,' says Buker. 'The next step is to establish a plantation covering an area of about 100 hectares, because we need to be able to produce crops on a larger scale. We are still using forest waste at the moment, which is giving the market the chance to get used to our briquettes and pellets. However, as soon as our plantation is able to provide enough of the raw materials necessary – in about a year from now – we will start full energy-crop production.'
To help it set up the farm, The Green Elephant received a technical assistance subsidy (TA) from the Dutch Good Growth Fund (DGGF). This scheme is administered by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) at the behest of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Buker: 'We used this assistance to bring a grass specialist from New Zealand over to Uganda. He gave us valuable advice on how to grow several energy crops. We now have enough cuttings to be able to start work on the plantation. We are planning to approach the DGGF to help us realise this expansion in production capacity in the future.'
Buker says that the technical assistance provided by the DGGF has given his project an important boost. 'We have invested a lot of our own capital in it in recent years, but our own resources would not have stretched to a grass specialist of this calibre.'