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22 April 2024
Renewable Energy

Welsh Firm to Power Kenya Farms with Electricity from Tea Clippings

Paul Willacy at the waste-to-hydrogen plant In Deeside, Wales

A North Wales waste-to-energy company is helping safeguard the British cuppa with a project that will use waste tea clippings to make greener power for Kenyan farmers.

The innovative project will be the first time waste prunings from tea production are used to produce clean electricity and heat, reducing costs and carbon emissions.

Kenya produces £1 billion of tea a year, with up to a quarter of it destined for British tea bags. But the industry is threatened by an unreliable and expensive electricity grid that cuts out for an hour a day on average, causing producers to rely on diesel generators for power and wood for heat.

Compact Syngas Solutions (CSS), based in Deeside, has developed an advanced gasification process that uses waste products to generate a syngas – a mix of hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide and monoxide. The syngas can be burned as a greener fuel, saving up to 2.8kg of carbon dioxide per litre of diesel, and up to 1.98 tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of fuelwood.

Carbonized biomass produced in the process can be applied to farmland to improve soil fertility and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as part of a capture and storage scheme, reducing the climate footprint of tea or generating income from emissions trading.

From left, Emily Mutindi Mutua of IITA, Paul Willacy of CSS, Niel Schulz from United Nations Industrial Development Organization, and Aarti Shah of IITA at a tea plantation in Limuru highlands, Kenya

Paul Willacy, managing director of Compact Syngas Solutions, said: 

“Every year Brits drink millions of cuppas from Kenya, but the tea industry there is at risk from an unreliable and expensive power supply.

“We’re going to provide energy security to the factories that process our tea, while reducing emissions, improving crop yields and bringing jobs to the country.

“We’re hugely excited about the impact this could have on the tea industry in Kenya and worldwide.”

Partners from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture have quantified the removable stocks of tea pruning, identified supply chain operations and delivered costs to the factory, and built a model for assessing savings in energy bills and fuelwood demand. In a proof-of-concept field trial they found that recycling of biochar to plantations can boost tea yields by up to 23%, increasing fertilizer use efficiency and drought resilience.

Each 500kWh plant will create jobs for up to ten skilled technical and operational workers with an extra ten workers in fabrication and support. Some 300 jobs should be created in Kenya within the first five years, including for Kenya’s well-educated underemployed young people, as well as boosting prospects for women.

Once the project has proved its success in Kenya the aim is for it to expand to Malawi, Uganda and South Africa, before spreading across the world.

CSS recently secured almost £4 million in government funding to make its biomass and waste-to-hydrogen plants even greener by using carbon capture.

Dr Dries Roobroeck, technical lead at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, said:

 “We’re always looking for innovative ways to improve crop yields, protect farmer livelihoods, and create sustainable farming systems, and this project ticks all these boxes.

“Gasification will also allow tea factories to reduce their carbon footprint and help global tea brands decrease their Scope 3 emissions.  More reliable electricity will improve the quality of the final product – so the benefits will be felt all the way across to the consumer.”

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