Geoffrey Okoth Yoga has built himself a profitable business in Uganda, with the production of Green Charcoal, using agricultural waste like rice husks and palm kernel husks to produce an environmentally-friendly energy source.
Uganda’s Geoffrey Okoth developed the idea of producing green charcoal briquettes by carbonizing these agricultural wastes.
He developed small furnaces using steel drums, a method of making wood charcoal that is very efficient, ending up with only 10-15 % of the original mass in the form of charcoal. These kilns provide around 40% efficiency resulting in a much more carbon dense and longer burning form of fuel.
Using his high school chemistry knowledge and scientific mindset, Okoth set about experimenting with different techniques and raw materials. “In theory any organic material can be used but different materials have different calorific values. We can fit about 30kg of rice husks in a drum and it takes around six hours to fully combust.
Palm kernel husks are much more carbon dense and can take 24 hours per drum. We usually use a mixture of the two. To bind the resulting char together into briquettes, we initially tried using cassava starch but it didn’t work well in large quantities so we started using molasses.”
However, this innovation means that for many customers Green Charcoal is a step into the unknown- unlike traditional methods which burn wood into hard chunks of coal, Green Charcoal’s kilns produce a a carbon dense powder know as char which then has to be pressed into standardized sized briquettes.
“Convincing people to buy an alternative to something they are already using can be difficult. You can’t use the Green Charcoal in exactly the same way as you would use traditional charcoal- it crumbles much more easily if you shake it, and us more difficult to light becouse of it’s high carbon content.” Okoth said.
Having to train customers on using the product slowed initial adoption but Okoth says that once they know how to use it, they get much better results, and at a cheaper price. Green Charcoal retails at 800 shillings per kilo, versus around 1000 shillings for the traditional product, which vis far less carbon dense.
Nevertheless, Okoth was surprised by the willingness of customers to try the product.”I didn’t expect people to value sustainability so much. Honestly, I thought people would only care about price. But the deforestation problem is so bad that many people have seen the damage first hand and know that wood charcoal from the forest is not sustainable.”
“First adopters are very important,” Okoth says.”So we spend a lot of time training them and familiarizing them with the product. Once they see the difference they become evangelists for the product.We do other advertising, such as radio appearances, but word of mouth is the most cost effective form of marketing for us.”
Okoth’s future plan is to ramp up production. “Currently,we are producing around 1’500 tonnes annually, and our aim is to triple that over the next couple of years to 4’500 tonnes. We want to do this by expanding our core business of charcoal, as well as producing non carbonized fuel. There is a huge demand for fuel from manufacturing industries and schools.” Said Okoth.