Firewood for boilers. Climate change. Pic News24
The tea factory used to spend $542,000 per year on firewood. The use of briquettes is cheaper and cleaner in terms of climate change. Pic credit: News24

In East Africa, of the 66 tea factories under the management of the Kenya Tea Development Authority, only one has implemented climate change practices, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.

The Makomboki Tea Factory has switched from using firewood for fuel to briquettes, which is made of biomass by-products that would otherwise be treated as waste.

The briquettes made of macadamia, cashew and rice husks are mixed with sawdust to make a cheaper, greener form of fuel for the factory’s boilers.

Factory manager John Gitau said: “We have not used a single cubic meter of firewood in the last six months and we are excited about that.”

Funding for the Makomboki briquette production plant was provided by the European Commission and British retailer Marks & Spencer, which buys tea from the factory.

Mitigating climate change

In 2010, the International Trade Centre commenced a training project aimed at teaching Kenya’s tea producers climate change mitigation techniques.

This training inspired the Makomboki board of directors to shift the factory’s fuel source from firewood to briquettes to reduce the factory’s impact on climate change.

The husks for the briquettes come from other factories within Muranga and Kiambu counties and the sawdust from mills near Makomboki.

Gitau explained: “Saw millers actually have a problem finding ways to dispose of their sawdust. [Through this climate change initiative] we are helping them get rid of their waste.”

According to Gitau, in the six months that it takes the factory to produce around 2.5 million kilograms of tea, their boilers used to consume up to 10,000 cubic meters of wood – the equivalent of 30,000 trees.

Reducing carbon emissions

Mary Njenga, a post-doctoral fellow of bioenergy at the World Agroforestry Centre, hails the use of sawdust in the making of fuel briquettes.

Njenga said: “Many timber producing areas burn sawdust [to get rid of it] but tea factories will be able to turn the sawdust into a resource.”

According to Njenga, burning sawdust in a boiler releases fewer carbon emissions reducing its impact on climate change than if it were burned in a field.

Njenga explained: “The temperatures inside the boilers of tea factories are so high, they are able to more fully burn the particulate matter and the carbon dioxide so that little is released.”

Gitau says tea factories that continue to use firewood cannot ignore their own roles in the adverse effects of climate change. He points to an unusually long dry season that hit tea crops this year, reported Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Return on investment

The move away from firewood also makes financial sense. Gitau says that swapping to fuel briquettes has reduced Makomboki’s energy costs by nearly half.

The factory used to spend $542,000 per year on firewood, but the introduction of briquettes has cut the energy bill to $295,600.

According to Gitau, word is spreading on the benefits of briquettes. Delegations from other factories have visited Makomboki to learn more about the alternative fuel.