At TBI’s Turkwel facility, on the west side of Lake Turkana, we’ve just installed a gasifier. This is a machine which turns biomass into natural gas, which is then used in a generator to make electricity. The technology isn’t particularly new – it was widely used in the Second World War instead of petroleum based fuels for cars – but its use for electricity generation is still being developed. The machine is from All Power Labs in the US and we worked with Yoav Palatnik from Eco-Power Africa to set it up. Yoav trained 3 members of the TBI staff how to run and maintain the machine.
At the moment TBI is mostly powered by solar power but when we need to top up the batteries we use a diesel generator, which costs 72 shillings or 85 cents for 1kVA (kilovolt-amp). But with the gasifier we can get 1kVA for a little more than 1 shilling, about 1 cent!!
The biomass we are using is mostly Doum Palm nuts. Doum Palms grow all along the Turkwel river; their nuts are harvested by the Turkana who use the outside layer to make a sweet flour. They then discard the rest of the nut, which is an outer shell around an inner kernel, both of which contain loads of energy. We are buying the discarded nuts at 5 shillings a kilo, about 6 cents, providing a small amount of extra income for the local women. “The machine is good because it is so cheap to run and the biomass is locally available,” says Kennedy Lemaron OleKimirei, a staff member at the facility.
Besides saving money, the gasifier is a lot better for the environment. Not only is it very efficient, the emissions are a lot cleaner than those of a diesel engine. With the gasifier installed, our facility is one step closer to being completely self-sufficient.