Ugandan townsmen turn waste problem into fuel

By Rachel England - 20 Dec 2010 6:33:3 GMT
Ugandan townsmen turn waste problem into fuel

Two men from Kampala, Uganda, have perfected a technique of turning rubbish into a versatile fuel, helping to tackle the town's escalating waste problem.

Fred Kyagulanyi and James Sendikwanawa were inspired to find a use for the rubbish that was engulfing the town – around 1,500 tones a day – and now, using catalytic pyrolysis, are able to turn refuse like plastic bottles, polythene bags and organic waste into a fuel that works in petrol engines.

The pair dry and sort the rubbish, heat it in kilns to produce a crude oil and add a catalyst, creating what Kyagulanyi calls 'non-fossil fuel'.

Their factory – little more than a corrugated iron lean-to – produces three types of fuel. "We use all types of waste from plants, plastic bottles, shoe soles and all different types of organic waste," Kyagulanyi says.

The pair had originally intended to turn the waste into manure and fertilisers for the farming industry, but a lack of demand meant they had to focus their efforts elsewhere. In 2009 they had a breakthrough and can now process up to two tonnes of garbage a day.

"So far we can only produce 100 litres of fuel a day," says Kyagulanyi. “We hope to increase the production if we get partners to expand our kilns. The challenge is that some people are still doubtful that our fuel works. We are now out to show the nation that we can produce enough fuel for everyone to run their vehicles while cleaning up all the rubbish left lying around the country."

Despite doubts from some, the men are heroes among the boda boda (motorbike taxi) riders who buy fuel from them at around $1 a litre - half the price of the petrol stations. Raj Kaakeeto is a boda boda rider and one of Kyagulanyi and Sendikwanawa's regular customers. He says at first he doubted whether the fuel would work. "One day I had no money yet I needed fuel. So I bought some of their fuel and mixed it with the little that I had in the tank. I was surprised - it worked."

But the pair are keen to use their creation for more than simply providing locals with fuel, noting its environmental benefits. Sendikwanawa says. "We only need to expand the capacity of our kiln and distilleries and we shall clean up the city of waste."