LeJan Energy: making sawdust briquettes as an alternative energy source
Sawdust is a timber-industrial waste product that pollutes the environment. Generally coming from the industries of saw-milling, pulp plant and paper, and wood processing, how to dispose of it poses a significant problem for Kenyan manufacturers. In Kenya, it is illegal to burn sawdust, and dumping it in a landfill is damaging to soil and water.
To tackle this issue, entrepreneur Jane Wangari, along with Lenny Githinji, founded LeJan Energy Limited, which manufactures biomass briquettes from sawdust and sells them to the industrial market.
Helping factories lower costs and carbon emissions with sawdust briquettes
In addition to coming up with a solution for sawdust waste, LeJan Energy also offers an alternative fuel source with their briquettes. In many Kenyan factories, wood and charcoal are the main sources of power for industrial boilers. However, burning wood and charcoal poses environmental problems: namely, releasing carbon dioxide and contributing to deforestation. Using the biomass briquettes instead of wood thus prevents trees from being chopped down and also mitigates carbon emissions.
On a practical level, using wood and charcoal can be cumbersome for Kenyan companies. Wood, for instance, has to be fetched, cleaned, and chopped, and in the process it is very difficult for the different wood pieces to end up uniform in size. Briquettes, on the other hand, are uniform in size, easy to handle, clean, and compact.
From household charcoal to sawdust briquettes for industry
Wangari and Githinji got into the briquetting business originally through selling charcoal briquettes for household use. However, they began to see that the demand was much greater in the industrial space rather than for individuals, and also that more and more companies were preferring to use eco-friendly alternatives. Not only would biomass briquettes help Kenyan manufacturers cut energy costs, but trends in the global markets were starting to demand more environmentally friendly practices from companies.
Simultaneously, Wangari and Githinji had noticed that there was an excess of sawdust in their region of Nakuru and Eldoret; wondering what they could do with it, they decided to use that as the material for their new briquettes.
Lejan Energy brings employment and electricity to the community
Since establishing their company, LeJan Energy has been able to benefit the community in a variety of ways. In addition to environmental improvements, they have directly created employment for 35 people and indirectly for 100- which includes people involved in all aspects of the supply chain.
Furthermore, they were able to literally bring electricity to the area in which they established their facilities. One benefit of that was bringing a sense of safety to the community. It has allowed for more development and activity to happen, including new housing being rented out- where even some LeJan Energy employees now live.
LeJan Energy receives incubation from Kenya Climate Innovation Center
LeJan Energy has been a client of KCIC since the end of 2017. Wangari says that they have benefited greatly from being incubated there.
“KCIC has really been of great support,” she says. “Through direct coaching and the mentorship program, they’ve helped us in formalizing our business strategy, working on our company structure in each and every department, and receiving technical training.”
Wangari is also thankful for the opportunities for attending conferences and pitching events that KCIC has provided them with. For instance, they were able to travel to South Africa for a conference on biomass, which allowed them to network and learn more about what is happening in the industry at a global and local level. They also got the chance to attend a Sankalp pitching event, which resulted in them finding a new investor for their business.
As for the future of LeJan Energy, Wangari says, “We intend to process as much biowaste as possible and help as many industries as possible mitigate their CO2 emissions through using better fuels. We also want to scale up and create branches around East Africa. As the biomass industry is relatively young in Africa, it presents many opportunities for expansion.”
By: Alise Brillault