In the suburb of Douala, Kemit Ecology produced 37.5 tons of charcoal from waste from the city’s markets. She hopes to go industrial soon.
For three years, the promoter of Kemit Ecology and his team have crisscrossed the markets, households and other places of the economic capital of Cameroon to collect biodegradable waste: sugar cane, skins and corn cobs, plantain and banana peelings, remains of rattans… “This garbage is transformed into 100% organic charcoal. Charcoal that respects all environmental rules, does not pollute nature and helps Cameroon save its forests, ”the young entrepreneur proudly says.
Fight against deforestation
According to Cameroonian statistics, the annual consumption of charcoal is estimated at 375,000 tonnes. The global market weighs 17 billion CFA francs per year. More than half of this coal is used in Douala and Yaoundé, the two large cities of the country. In rural areas, 91% of households instead use firewood.
In 2011, during an internship, Muller Tenkeu, then a student in ecology, biodiversity and the environment, made this observation: in the Bois des Singes, a mangrove area in Douala, the inhabitants cut trees every day to make firewood and build Their houses. “We wanted to offer an alternative to this problem of deforestation in mangrove woods. We then thought of household waste and set up our factory in the middle of this mangrove, ”he says.
The young man and some student friends benefit from “technical” assistance from the Cameroon Living Earth Foundation (FCTV). The NGO then funded their further training in an approved center for ecological charcoal production. Two years later, in August 2014, the SME Kemit Ecology was born.
Six tons produced per month
Until January 2015, Muller Tenkeu Nandou continued testing to find the “good organic charcoal” resistant, which does not crumble and produces little smoke. “At the beginning, we produced a ton of organic charcoal per month and in a rudimentary way,” he recalls. We used archaic ovens for carbonization and just the sun for drying ”.
Since then, the young company has benefited from donations and funding which enabled it to acquire machines made in Cameroon: a chopper, a compactor, a drying chamber, control boxes, a carbonizer. Their site was hardwired with high voltage for industry. Their production increased from one to six tonnes per month and the rewards were quick: Young Green Entrepreneur award for climate initiatives at COP22 in Marrakech in 2016, award for best technology in Cameroon, in the wake.
A charcoal that does not blacken the pots
This Thursday, back from the collection, Muller Tenkeu and Cédric Nganchia, the collector, are sorting in the yard of the factory where biodegradable garbage is dumped. They select those to be transformed and transport them with wheelbarrows to the production unit behind the container which serves as their “office”. There, the garbage is cut, dried and plunged into the carbonator for “incomplete” combustion. The resulting mixture is passed through the molds. The engines roar.
Simone Mboule, intern at Kemit Ecology, molds ecological charcoal to make briquettes.
Simone Mboule, the only woman in the room, with a scarf tied on her head, has blackened clothes and hands. Patiently, the young intern cuts the pieces of charcoal that come out of the mold. “This charcoal does not emit smoke and does not blacken the undersides of pots. Unlike charcoal which emits greenhouse gases, it is harmless because during incomplete combustion, these gases are extracted, explains Ernest Benelesse, head of research and development. It is also cheaper. In the dry season, when coal prices soar because of impassable roads, our prices remain stable. “
The 40 kg bag of this charcoal produced in cylindrical and cubic form costs 8,000 CFA francs (12.30 euros), instead of 9,500 CFA francs (14.60 euros) for traditional charcoal. It is sold in the markets of Douala. Restaurants and housewives regularly place orders. In two years, the five employees of Kemit Ecology have collected 288 tonnes of garbage transformed into 37.5 tonnes of organic charcoal. “We do not even cover one hundredth of Douala’s demand, whose annual consumption exceeds 100,000 tonnes,” sighs Muller Tenkeu. We are looking for an investment of 50 million CFA Francs (approx. 77,000 euros) to switch to semi-industrial production. “
Still too much ash
At the Cité de Billes, at the eastern entrance to the economic capital, apple broth cooked in a pot placed on a charcoal oven. Juliette, 54, watches over her cooking. “This coal really burns! she says. I didn’t even know it was made with the peelings of plantains and bananas, wonders the 50-year-old, wiping the sweat off her face with an African patterned dress. And to underline its advantageous price.
The only problem Juliette has? Organic charcoal produces a lot of ash. ” It’s normal. It is the ash that is compacted or molded to give this charcoal. It can be used to fertilize soils, explains Muller. We are working to reduce the quantity ”. To do this, the start-up, which is not yet profitable, awaits its next investors and large-scale production.