Blog: RFP seeks microdistilleries for clean-burning cooking ethanol

By Susanne Retka Schill | February 06, 2017

Efforts continue to find sustainable cooking fuels for those facing what the nonprofit Gaia calls energy poverty. When Holly Jessen authored this blog, she wrote at length about GAIA’s work in Haiti.  Project Gaia Energy Revolution has work underway in several countries. You can get an update on Haiti, plus summaries of the work being done in Ethiopia and Nigeria on the project’s website.  

The Ethiopian project, for instance, began in 2004 when a sugar company recognized the opportunity to use the tons of molasses being dumped as waste into ethanol. Gaia organized a project there to introduce clean cooking stoves and ethanol fuel. According to the website, Ethiopia now produces 30 million liters of ethanol annually.  “Gaia routinely refers to ethanol as a 'democratic fuel,' meaning it creates opportunities to include a variety of people in its production, particularly those who may be marginalized for economic or social reasons, such as poor outgrowers or women,” the website says. One group of women who organized as the Former Women Fuelwood Carriers Assoc., formed a microdistillery and now sell the ethanol cooking fuel in the surrounding community.

Recenty, the organization launched a project in Madagascar. Clean Cooking Madagascar plans to create a market for 100,000 ethanol cookstoves over five years. As part of the program, they want to develop ethanol micro distilleries, starting with a demonstration pilot to serve as a training facility. They’ve announced a request for proposals, looking for a design for a plant with a production capacity of between 2,000 and 5,000 liters a day, using sugarcane as feedstock.

We’ve written about other efforts in the past. Novozymes and ICM collaborated on a project in Mozambique. While I found a website for Cleanstar Mozambique, I couldn’t get the pages translated reliably. I found a 2014 story about NewFire Africa filing for voluntary liquidation. Formerly Cleanstar Mozambique, it deployed more than 33,000 cook stoves and sold over a million liters of ethanol while in operation. NewFire, however, was not able to achieve a scale and market penetration to become economically viable. The news release expressed shareholders' hope that retailers and distributors would take over and build the business. The one page on Cleanstar Mozambique I got translated indicated they are still active and working on continued funding.

It is heartening to learn that although some projects struggle to find solid economic footing, the dream is still there, and being realized in some communities. It’s the dream to reduce deforestation, improve lives in energy deficient locales using familiar, well-adapted crops to make ethanol for cleaner burning stoves.