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Kenya’s first commercial biomass power plant

Prosopis Juliflora, or
Mathenge “’ the tree which
will feed the country’s first
commercial biomass power
Nairobi, Kenya — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 17 January 2012 – Private electricity producer Tower Power is scheduled to break new ground in Kenya next month when it starts construction of the country’s first commercial biomass power plant.

Tower Power is owned by Industrial Energy Africa Limited “’ a joint venture between industrialist Manu Chandaria’s Comcraft Group and Powergas International, a UK-based energy conglomerate.

The new plant will be fed by the Prosopis Juliflora tree, popularly known as ‘Mathenge,’ as the country moves towards adopting green and renewable energy solutions. The project is set to transform the tree from a noxious weed to a cash crop when about 2,000 households begin supplying the company with the tree stems.

“Prosopis Juliflora produces good quality fuel of one of the highest recorded calorific values of about 500kcal/kg, which burns well even when freshly cut,” said, Tower Power agronomist Damaris Akoth. The firm intends to put up an 11.5 megawatts (MW) bio-fuel plant in Marigat, in Baringo County at a cost of US$21 million. The project has been sanctioned by the National Environment Management Authority.

The company also intends to build another biomass plant at Kinango, in Kwale County at a cost of US$24 million. The bio-fuel plants will also be fed by agricultural residue such as wheat and sisal waste and earn carbon credits with estimated carbon emission savings of 52,300tpa.

Baringo has a Mathenge forest cover of about 30,000 hectares, the highest density of the invasive plant in Kenya. Tower Power estimates that the forest can serve its power plant for 10 years, and is negotiating with Kenya Power the terms of a 20-year power purchase agreement.

A survey carried out in 2007 showed that the tree had invaded 15 districts and occupied an overall total 200,000 hectares.

Tower Power targets to raise close to 70% of the funding for the two projects “’ a total of more than US$30 million “’ from local financiers, with the balance being injected by Powergas International.

At 8 US cents per kilowatt hour, biomass ranks second as the cheapest source of energy after geothermal power, which costs US6.4 cents; and beats hydro and thermal, which cost US12.5 cents and US10.2 cents respectively.

The power produced at the Kwale biomass plant will be used to meet the energy needs of Mabati Rolling Mills and Kaluworks Limited, both of them subsidiaries of the Comcraft Group. The firm plans to grow mathenge on a trust land in Kinango.