The University of Glasgow’s project on “Sustainable Clean Cooking Facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi” was amongst three out of over 30 applications that were funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Innovation Fund (CJIF) in 2019. This fund supports the delivery of climate justice related projects which field test the feasibility of new methods, technologies or approaches in tackling climate change, or trial new innovations on the path to scale.
This bioenergy project aims to help address deforestation in southern Malawi (Machinga) through delivering a sustainable biofuel production (biogas and biosyngas) using organic waste as fuel for clean and efficient cooking. The total funding is £122,583 and the project is implemented by the University of Glasgow (PI Dr. Nader Karimi) with partners in Malawi; Abundance, Fab Engineering, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and LEAD.
The partnership in this project goes back to 2016, when Dr.Karimi and Dr.Pullanikkatil were connected through Sustainable Futures in Africa network. Between 2017-2018, Dr.Karimi and his colleagues from the University of Glasgow led a Biomass Energy study in partnership with Abundance to understand Malawi’s specific energy issues. Seeing first-hand that people still use the three stone stove, that women walk far distances to collect firewood, the rampant deforestation and that even simple fuel efficient technologies were not widely used in Malawi, moved Dr.Karimi to think of a solution specifically “engineered” for Malawi. Dr.Pullanikkatil undertook a residency at the University of Glasgow in 2018, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which gave her the opportunity to engage further with Karimi and connect him to colleagues in Malawi, who later became partners of this CJIF project.
This project addresses the need for clean energy and contributes towards improving energy security using a novel and innovative technology designed for Malawi. In Malawi only 11% of the population have access to electricity and 98% of people use wood fuel for cooking (a figure that remains unchanged since 2010). Exposure to smoke from cooking has severe negative health impacts and even in urban areas of Malawi, firewood is mainly used in open three-stone fires. The use of firewood and charcoal has contributed significantly to deforestation and the need for cleaner energy sources which are more efficient for cooking is much needed in Malawi. Majority of the clean energy interventions in Malawi focus on using “less” firewood or charcoal, through increasing efficiency of stoves, this project improves on this approach by eliminating firewood altogether as fuel and replacing it with organic waste.
The project responds to the needs of Malawi as articulated by its Government. Regionally, clean and efficient Energy is a priority as noted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s Protocol on Energy, to which Malawi has been a signatory since 1996. Nationally, the overarching development master plan for Malawi is the “Malawi Growth and Development Strategy” or MGDS. The latest MGDS III has ranked Energy as one of its five key priority areas and calls for technologies that can aid rural areas to have affordable, clean and efficient energy. Furthermore, Malawi’s Climate Change Policy and Strategy has acknowledged the need for efficient and clean energy to help Malawi reach its climate action goals.
Using an innovative approach of combining biogas and biosyngas, this project is developing a clean and efficient energy technology that can help Malawians rise the energy ladder and also contribute towards achieving climate action goals. The reason to combine biogas and biosyngas technology is due to Malawi’s unique climate; a hot and rainy season from mid-November to April and a relatively cool and dry season from mid-May to mid-August. During the wet season, plenty of wet organic waste will be available, while in the dry season, it will be dry organic waste. A technology that can only work with wet biomass/organic matter will not be suitable for the dry season and vice versa; hence this innovative combination of biogas and biosyngas. Furthermore, this innovative technology is completely smokeless, which is different from the previously piloted efficient cooking technologies such as fuel-efficient stoves, which reduce smoke, but not completely remove it.
Through this project, a nationwide survey on biomass availability and its combustion properties was done by LUANAR in March 2020. Fab Engineering has assembled the energy plant with designs and instruction from the PI and colleagues from University of Glasgow. Currently, the plant is being tested with various types of waste including cow dung and rice husks, both of which are wastes readily available in the site where the technology will be piloted. The energy plant will be piloted at the kitchen of the Chilimba Primary school at Mbando village, where Abundance has been working since 2016. Abundance has set up a youth waste collection team of 10 men and 10 women, who have begun collecting dry and wet wastes at Mbando village. They have been able to find rice husks from a nearby rice mill, sugarcane waste and cowdung from smallholder farms within the village.
The piloting was scheduled to be undertaken in September 2020, but will be guided by COVID-19 restrictions. COVID-19 has challenged the project team to carry out the scheduled work with fewer physical contacts with Mbando villagers. So far progress has been made through transfer of funds to its Community Coordinator using mobile money, to purchase equipment for waste collection and hold meetings at the village with social distancing. Malawi has not imposed a lockdown; however, cases of infections are increasing. Therefore, the team has shared masks and cleaning materials with Mbando village and purchased a smartphone to ease communication for the Community Coordinator. The team is monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely. Work will be planned avoiding risks to the team.
It is already well reflected in the open literature that extensive use of firewood and charcoal has led to massive deforestation and significant health issues in Malawi. Further, when Dr.Karimi travelled to Malawi in February 2018 and visited a few rural areas and spoke to the chief of three villages, they all asserted that they would strongly support changes in fuel supply. This project aims to address the deforestation problem using organic waste in an innovative cooker instead of firewood or charcoal. The technology will be used for cooking mid-day meals at Chilimba Primary school. This will support 250 children in Mbando village school, who are from poor households. The users of the technology are mothers and teachers from Mbando village. These users will be interviewed to improve the technology design and a reengineered design will be made that addresses their concerns. This way, the design is informed by local knowledge. After completion of the project, the system stays in the school and will be a permanent asset for the Mbando community. The project results will be widely disseminated through networks such as the SFA. The project will end in March 2021.
Reflections and Blogposts by Abundance members and friends
The blog posts here are a collection of reflections by people who have supported Abundance,or visited Mbando village where we work.