A Kenyan Teenager Turns Human Waste into Clean Energy

Leroy Mwasaru_header
At Maseno School near Kisumu, a large boarding school in Western Kenya, the sewer system often backed up and contaminated a nearby stream. There was uproar from the local community, for it was the only source of fresh water, and nobody wants feces in his/her water.

Leroy Mwasaru , a teenage student at the school came up with a solution: Why not turn the sewage, along with food waste and dung from the school’s cattle, into power for the school?

“My inspiration was drawn from the pressing demand for a clean, renewable sustainable source of fuel,” says Mwasaru, now 17. “In the African continent we have lots of resources that masquerades as ‘waste.'”

The full team behind the human waster bioreactor with Leroy Mwasaru (second from right). The team started off with five members, with two later graduated to university.

Along with a team of fellow students, Mwasaru started researching biodigesters a year ago—underground chambers that collected waste and used microorganisms to efficiently convert the waste into a renewable fuel. “We were out to make ours more flexible and better,” Mwasaru says.

After winning a national competition, Innovate Kenya, for their idea, the students built two prototypes. The second prototype is now in use at the school, sending biogas directly to the school’s kitchen, providing fuel for stoves. Previously, cooking used to happen on wood fires, a process that sent black soot into the cooks’ lungs and stripped local forests of trees. Such replacement means fewer trees have to be chopped down and thus a significant benefit for the local ecosystem. Ultimately, the team hopes to provide the school with plans for a system that can process the waste of all 1,200 students. It will cost around $85,000, but may reduce half that amount in fuel savings alone.
The same system could also be scaled down to work in individual houses. “After the success of our second prototype, I gained enough conviction to build one at our rural home,” Mwasaru says. “The blueprint can be retouched based on the target market demands.”

They hope to eventually launch a start-up to bring the system to buildings around the country, based on a sliding scale that will allow richer customers to subsidize cleaner sanitation and energy for low-income communities.

“After completing high school next year, our team looks to venture into the project’s greatest potentials,” Mwasaru says.
“What motivates Mwasaru is to solve problems that currently affect others in his community,” says David Moinina Sengeh, an MIT researcher and president of Global Minimum, a group working with youth to help them turn their ideas into tangible solutions. “His curiosity to explore and learn from doing within a motivation to bring broader social change is something that we hope to see in all our youth and frankly everyone.”

Watch a short video about the project here:

(Courtesy of Adele Peters: http://www.fastcoexist.com/3039676/change-generation/this-kenyan-teenager-uses-poop-to-fuel-his-school)
(Alex Court: http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/26/business/poo-power-kenya/)

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