Seeing how forests were being destroyed in Tanzania and Kenya to make charcoal – a key energy source in Africa – 27-year-old entrepreneur Chebet Lesan was determined to find another solution.
Trained as an industrial product designer, she spent 8 months coming up with her business idea to turn urban and agricultural waste into charcoal briquettes.
After getting together the money she needed, she recruited local engineers and designers to help her build the machinery to compress the charcoal. She was committed to making everything in Kenya and being as “green” as possible. The machinery was made out of recycled scrap metal and used gears. It took four attempts to get the design to work, but Lesan didn’t give up.
Now her social enterprise company Bright Green Renewable Energy in Nairobi has turned over 80 tons of trash into safe, smokeless charcoal briquettes.
“We collect waste from shambas and markets, which we usually burn through a process called carbonization. This then turns into a material called char, which is a black powder with the same properties as charcoal. We then compress this powder into blocks to form charcoal,” Lesan told Kenya’s Capital Fm.
Charcoal and wood provide cooking and heating energy for over 80 percent of Kenya’s population, according to Lesan. The massive demand has caused the forests to be destroyed, leaving only 2 percent of the country forested.
Lesan’s charcoal is cheaper than conventional charcoal, longer lasting, and more efficient. It’s also smokeless, so it reduces health issues related to breathing in smoke while cooking. And her business creates jobs, cleans up the environment through recycling waste, and, most importantly, protects trees.
Her work was noticed by Queen Elizabeth II, and she is one of three young Kenyans to receive the Queen’s Young Leaders Award.