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East Africa: 'Green' Bamburi to switch to biomass energy

Bamburi Cement Group is turning to biomass to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The cement maker, one of the largest consumers of energy in the region, says it will cut emissions in Kenya and Uganda by 132,000 tonnes by 2010, through the use of biomass from coffee, rice and coconut husks to fire its kilns.

Bernard Osawa, the group’s business manager in charge of alternative fuels, says this will be achieved through greater use of biomass instead of coal to fire kilns used in breaking down limestone during the cement-making process. 

The biomass will include wood from the company’s own plantations as well as coffee, rice and coconut husks bought from local farmers. The switch from coal to biomass will cost about Ksh1.4 billion ($20 million), with a big chunk of the money going towards upgrading equipment. 

The investment is, however, expected to pay off in the long-run as biomass is substantially cheaper than fossil fuels such as oil, whose global price last week hit $110 per barrel. Energy expenditures account for up to 40 per cent of Bamburi’s running costs, with the Mombasa plant alone reportedly consuming up to 300 tonnes of coal daily.

Already, Bamburi says that it has reduced its emissions of carbon dioxide by more than 100,000 tonnes since 2002. The latest plans will see use of fossil fuels go down by 20 per cent at its Mombasa plant and 50 per cent at the Ugandan plant as biomass fuel use is upgraded. 

The Bamburi Group, which is listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and is 60 per cent owned by French multinational Lafarge, operates Bamburi Cement in Kenya, Hima Cement in Uganda, and Mbeya Cement in Tanzania.

Last month, the group announced a 34 per cent rise in turnover to Ksh22.1 billion ($316 million), while profits hit Ksh3.8 billion ($54 million). 

The increase in the group’s turnover was supported by a 15 per cent increase in sales volumes reaching two million tonnes. The company total dividend payout amounted to Ksh2.2 billion ($31 million).

Releasing the results on February 26, group chairman Richard Kemoli said Bamburi had returned particularly strong growth in Uganda on the back of infrastructural development projects ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that took place last November. Uganda’s power supply constraints, he added, would however continue to be a challenge until the construction of the 250MW hydropower Bujagali Dam is completed.

Analysts say that growing international concern about carbon emissions, which cause global warming, as well as the rising cost of fossil fuels, are driving large companies including those in the region to invest in new, more efficient technologies.

Last year, the Bamburi group, for example, invested Ksh400 million ($6.06 million) in a new cooler at its Mombasa plant aimed at boosting production efficiency. In Uganda, Bamburi also commenced the construction of a new production line at a cost of Ksh7 billion ($100 million) to double capacity. 

The new line, which has also been designed to produce lower emissions, is expected to be commissioned by 2010.

Last week, Mr Osawa said the use of such biomass as coffee, rice and coconut husks by Bamburi will have important spin-offs. “It will be a win-win situation for both the company and farmers, as they will earn revenue from their biomass,” he said. “In addition, it will address environmental concerns.” 

Bamburi’s first major environmental project involved the rehabilitation of one of its big quarries in Mombasa, which it reclaimed and rehabilitated into the Haller Park Nature Trail. 

The company has also planted over 2.5 million trees so far.

In 2000, Bamburi spent $4 million to install new kiln cooler dust collectors and commenced a new round of quarry rehabilitation. At about the same time, the company also invested in dust filters.

Despite these efforts, the Bamburi Group remains one of East Africa’s largest carbon dioxide emitters because of the nature of its business.

Cement manufacturers are among the world’s largest greenhouse gases emitters, accounting for an estimated five per cent of all emissions. 

Experts say that this is a result of the fact that the cement production process produces the gases in two major phases; first in firing of the kilns to “cook” the limestone, and when the limestone breaks down into carbon dioxide and lime.

Apart from Bamburi, other major companies in the regions that are paying attention to their carbon emissions include Mumias Sugar, which has already started meeting its powers needs with electricity generated from bagasse.

The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) has also launched a programme where it is selling carbon credits on the international market following greater exploitation of clean geothermal energy.

Additional information:
News date: 17/03/2008

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