Kampala is the capital city of Uganda. It has over 3 million inhabitants and is growing by >5%. Over 90% of households use charcoal as cooking fuel and the Kampala-Masindi district consumes over 8 million bags of charcoal per year, more the 50% of demand.
This represents charcoal demand of over 60 million tons, made from over 300 million tons of wood. Uganda’s forest is fast disappearing as a result and is a natural disaster.
Biomass pellets are a natural combustion fuel made from waste materials and Austria is a leader in the field of pellet technology both for combustion and manufacture.
Save Energy Austria, a Vienna based company dedicated to energy saving and CO2 mitigation, has taken an interest in the situation to see if pellets could be used as a cooking fuel in the place of charcoal. Together with Ekasi Energy, they have been investigating the possibility of introducing rice husk pellets and a gasifier stove called a FabStove to the Kampala market.
The Ugandan government is pursuing a strategy to make Uganda self sufficient for rice consumption. Local growing programs will eventually replace imports from mainly Pakistan. A company has invested in rice milling capacity to process the rice. They have also invested in a rice husk pellet mill.
Save Energy Austria believes that these pellets could replace charcoal, which would save large amounts of unsustainable harvested wood.
Save Energy Austria embarked on three important initiatives to determine whether the conversion from charcoal to rice husk pellets for cooking is possible and feasible.
First, Save Energy Austria, imported pellets made in Uganda and had them tested at a laboratory in Vienna to check the suitability for use as a cooking fuel. Although high in ash, the pellets burned well and proved suitable for cooking.
Next, Save Energy Austria enrolled the help of the Institute of Thermal Engineering at TU Graz, to test the pellets in a FabStove from Ekasi Energy.
TU Graz successfully tested the pellet fuel, but also did CFD analysis with financial help from Save Energy Austria to improve the stove design and reduce the CO emissions to a tenth of what they were, making the FabStove much safer than a traditional charcoal stove.
Lastly, Save Energy Austria has been working in the Kampala market with existing stove manufacturers
to determine if the FabStove can be locally produced. Local production will allow for a much lower cost and also allow production to be ramped a lot quicker. Existing charcoal stove manufacturers will be able to retool themselves and produce cleaner stoves using recycled rice husk waste.
This research was done in Kampala and has included engaging with GiZ and Endev, who are European funded agencies helping with clean stove introduction in Uganda. It also included having the FabStove tested and approved for use at the UNBS (Uganda National Bureau of Standards).
The FabStove project in Uganda is now ready to launch, thanks to the structured approach and financial support from Save Energy Austria. Without this support, Ekasi Energy would not have been able to introduce a clean cooking program backed by solid scientific facts and expertise from leading Austrian research institutions.
Ekasi Energy and Save Energy Austria are now engaging with local partners and raising finance to be able to run their first market pilots for locally assembled FabStove’s, and locally manufactured pellet fuel.
Based on projections, not only will pellets be cleaner, but will also offer significant consumer savings on fuel purchases. This will also help poor people afford cleaner cooking methods.
We are hopeful that this project will be a “game-changer” and prove that biomass pellets can help save the natural forests in Uganda and contribute in a significant way to mitigate climate change.