Sugar waste: Providing clean fuel for cooking

In Kenya, a safe, convenient and affordable ethanol cooking fuel is reducing damage to the environment, and impact on human health. Accessed through local retailers via cloud-connected e-commerce kiosks, the fuel is used on modern ethanol cooking stoves costing half the price of traditional gas stoves.

SmartCook stoves cost half the price of equivalent 2-burner gas stoves © KOKO Networks

An innovative technology platform is scaling the distribution of ethanol cooking fuel in Kenya. KOKO Networks provides a digital platform to urban consumers by leveraging an agent network and existing infrastructure, such as petrol stations and urban points of sale, to provide an affordable and safe alternative to ‘dirty’ fuels. Branded SmartCook, the cooking fuel is reducing CO2 emissions and deforestation associated with the use of charcoal and kerosene, as well as improving the health of households by decreasing indoor air pollution.

In Africa’s 40 largest cities, KOKO Networks estimates that the cooking fuel market is worth €21 billion annually. However, the majority of this expenditure is spent on environmentally harmful energy that is also dangerous to human health. Charcoal and kerosene both cause toxic indoor air pollution and, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, lead to more than 20,000 deaths per year in Kenya alone. As a safe and convenient alternative, SmartCook ethanol cooking fuel is produced from the fermentation of molasses – an agro-industrial by-product from processing sugarcane into sugar. The ethanol produced is unsuitable for use in the beverage industry as it contains impurities and is usually wasted but, by altering the chemical properties of the compound, the by-product can be used to create fuel.

As well as fuel, KOKO Networks also produce a SmartCook stove kit which consists of a two-burner stove and a durable ‘smart’ canister than can be refilled at ‘KOKOpoints’ in local retailers, which act as fuel ATMs. KOKO Networks partners with fuel wholesalers and a network of agents, including urban shopkeepers, to increase availability. When a retailer is selected to become a KOKO agent, the company installs a cloud-connected e-commerce KOKOpoint kiosk into the shop. The KOKOpoint brings up customer account details when the KOKO canister docks with the KOKOpoint by recognising the unique chip within the SmartCook canister. A SmartCook stove kit costs €37 – half the price of an equivalent two-burner gas stove.

High consumer demand for ethanol fuel has already been demonstrated through a previous proof of concept venture in Mozambique that successfully converted 40,000 homes (10% of total households) in Maputo from charcoal to ethanol within 12 months of retail launch in 2013. KOKO launched its fuel and stove technology in Kenya in April 2017 and currently retails in 12 neighbourhoods in Nairobi.

Benson Rioba

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.