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Running cars on waste cooking oil

Wambui Virginia @kuivirgie

While undertaking an environment course at United States International University (USIU), Bryan Piti burned the midnight oil mulling over what class project he’d embark on that would reflect his passion for conserving the environment and at the same time earn him the best grades on the unit.

After sifting and sorting through the various ideas he had, he opted to work on producing biodiesel from waste cooking oil and fats.

“The global demand for liquid fuels has been rising and so does the concerns over it’s dependability over the long-term and the impact of its use on our security and environment,” said Piti, whose class project birthed a concept that would later become a fully fledged biodiesel production company, Biogen Kenya.

With the help of his lecturer, Professor Max Muniafu, Piti forwarded a proposal to the National Council of Science and Technology (NCST), who funded the research and whose findings helped set up the initiative.

“Biogen Kenya was founded in 2014 by a team of researchers to commercialise biodiesel production and refining with a focus on producing quality fuel and environmental sustainability,” says Piti, who is the director of the company.

Research has shown that renewable fuels alone cannot fully replace the petroleum needed to fuel our world. However, biofuels used in conjunction with other fuels would increase the global supply of fuel while at the same time reducing its carbon print.

In November 2014, the company opened Kenya’s first biodiesel research and development centre in Nairobi, which is now capable of producing up to 13,000 litres per year. “However, our first production was about 20 litres a day,” says Piti.

There are over 400 hotels in Nairobi, which discard about 2,000 litres of waste cooking oil/fats a month. That makes about 800,000 litres of waste cooking oils a month that can be recycled.

The process of making biodiesel, Piti explains, involves weighing substantial amount of methanol and adding it to the vegetable oil. This process also needs a catalyst to increase the rate of chemical reaction between methanol and the vegetable oil.

The catalyst is either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. The mixture is heated and afterwards cooled after which it separates into two. The bottom part contains the glycerol part of the waste oil, which is used in cosmetic industry and soap production.

And the other part is biodiesel, which can be used to fire up stoves in low-income households and fuel in the transportation industry. “We tested the biodiesel on a stationery engine, and emissions of soot were recorded at almost zero while carbon dioxide emissions were very minimal,” says Piti.

One and a quarter litres of waste cooking oil produces a litre of biodiesel. A litre of Biogen’s biodiesel costs between Sh56 and Sh90 per litre, a variation based on supply of waste cooking oils.

“We currently supply on orders, and our customers contact us through our social media platforms and we are able to deliver,” he adds. Piti reveals that the company hopes to change the way we fuel our cars, trucks, ships and any automobile by developing and producing clean, renewable and sustainable alternative fuels, now and into the future.

“Our target customers are transport companies, hotels institutions individuals and industries. We are currently working with major hotels including Hilton, Hotel Intercontinental and PrideInn.

“We are working with Isuzu Kenya to come up with a Bio Bus that runs purely on biodiesel for public transport. Another project in the pipeline is a bus that runs on five per cent biodiesel and 95 per cent normal diesel.”

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