MASH Biotech originally thought they were going to base their company revenues on producing bio oil from waste materials. But after participating in the “Deciphering the Relief Aid Market”-project, things have changed. A new and more easily applicable solution is now the keystone to MASH Biotech’s future: electrifying Africa.
When MASH Biotech and its CEO Jakob Bejbro Andersen joined access2innovation in 2016, the idea was to develop on the company’s concept of producing bio fuel from organic waste in a relief aid setting. The oil-production had already been tested and developed with great success in India to an extent where local tuk-tuks were able to run on the organic oil that MASH Biotech produced in their reactors.
As part of the “Deciphering the Relief Aid Market”-project, the company visited the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya with the intention of solving some of the camp’s energy needs by building reactors that could generate bio oil for diesel generators based on waste from the camp’s sanitary facilities.
“That was our original plan,” says CEO Jakob Bejbro Andersen, “to build reactors that produced bio oil from human waste. But we soon saw that there was a huge potential in utilising an invasive plant species called Prosopis that was already being used for firewood.”
Collecting human waste in Kakuma turned out to be a logistical and practical nightmare. Furthermore, the potential outcome from human waste was more than 500 times lower than from the abundantly available Prosopis. This led to MASH Biotech instead setting out to tweak their technology to allow oil production from Prosopis – something that would potentially turn the weed infested refugee camp area into an oil field.
At first, the results seemed promising, but as MASH started scaling up the installations to increase production capacity and make the whole operation economically feasible, problems started to occur.
“Basically, what we do in our reactors, is about as complicated as what you could do in your average kitchen,” says Jakob Bejbro Andersen. “We add heat and suppress the amount of air so that the organic material in the reactor turns into a gas. When the gas is cooled down, it can be distilled into oil. But that part of the process is much more volatile and sensitive. When we scaled up, we didn’t end up with an oil, but with a watery liquid that smelled slightly smoky,” he says.
The engineers at MASH Biotech scratched their heads. They had already proved that oil production was possible and built a functioning reactor at their site in India, but somehow the solution proved hard to replicate on a grander scale in Africa – especially in a remote area like the Kakuma refugee camp.
“What the people in Kakuma need – as well as many other people in Africa – is energy. Electricity. Not oil,” says Jakob Bejbro Andersen.
“We could provide that, if we stop the process in our reactor when the biological material turns into gas. That gas can be used to run a modified diesel engine – and hey presto – you have a clean and sustainable energy that is ready to use,” he says.
MASH Biotech has now developed a container based solution that can be fed Prosopis (or most other organic material) into one end and produce up to 80 kW of clean energy – based on a generator that works in much the same way as a car engine that has been converted to run on CNG.
The solution has been developed specifically for the African market where organic material is in abundance but access to grid energy is extremely scarce.
With a price tag that makes electricity production possible at half the price of any competing products, MASH Biotech is now focusing the company’s future in Africa on their new gas-to-power-solution, showcasing it at a major energy conference in South Africa in May this year.
A successful failure
“I guess you could say that we have failed in relation to what we set out to do in the “Deciphering the Relief Aid Market”-project,” says Jakob Bejbro Andersen. “But we ended up with something that is far better and far more practically applicable.”
“We would never have been able to come this far without the support and network that we have accessed through the partners in the “Deciphering the Relief Aid Market”-project and access2innovation. Working with a CSO like the Kenya Red Cross Society has been a huge advantage for us on many levels. I believe it’s generally looked upon as one of the most reliable organisations in Kenya.”
Even though the solution that MASH Biotech has now developed isn’t primarily aimed at emergency or relief aid, Jakob Bejbro Andersen is convinced that the humanitarian world will benefit from the development in the end.
“Red Cross and other CSOs are looking to improve their cash flows and energy provision. Our solution would be an obvious way to provide that, because the solution has been developed particularly to suit that need – even if it ended up like that in a roundabout way. “Deciphering the Relief Aid Market” has definitely been a valuable stepping stone for us in that regard,” he says.
MASH Biotech is currently testing their power supply with other members of the access2innovation association in Africa.