Boniface Jiveri, a researcher currently working at Kaimosi Friends University College, has invented a clean cooking and lighting fuel that peri-urban and rural poor can use. The fuel, Bio-gel, is also a mosquito repellent and air freshener. In addition, Jiveri generates organic fertiliser from the waste that is used to produce the gel.
In 2017, Jiveri, 30, with a master’s degree in medical microbiology from Maseno University, was researching on a mosquito repellent when one thing led to another.
“I was in the Maseno University School of Medicine lab carrying out a parasitology project, for which I was experimenting on developing a mosquito repellent from orange fruit peelings for people in Western and Nyanza regions,” he recounts, explaining that he used fermented fruit peelings to generate bio-ethanol for making the repellent.
But he realised the repellent was burning and exhausting too fast, he therefore needed to make it viscous, to achieve this, he mixed the bio-ethanol with egg shells, which would make it burn longer.
In the process of carrying out several experiments, he discovered the components he was testing could also generate a clean bio-fuel that could be used in place of fossil fuel such as paraffin - to produce one litre of this fuel, he needed 100 millilitres of bio-ethanol and five grammes of egg shells. And with that one more discovery, Jiveri’s innovation killed two birds with one stone – he got his mosquito repellent, as well as a bio-fuel.
He explains that the process of making his Bio-gel fuel involves crushing egg shells to produce calcium carbonate, which is fermented to produce calcium acetate, a thick calcium carbonate concentrate. When ethanol from fermented fruit peelings is added to the concentrate, you get the Bio-gel fuel.
The fuel acts as a mosquito repellent because of a chemical called ‘d-limonin’ that is emitted by the gas. Mosquitoes become unconscious once they inhale it, thus making them inactive.
As he continued to experiment, Jiveri realised that his fuel could also act as air freshener.
“Since oranges have a chemical called mono-tapin that emits a somewhat sweet fragrance, I applied this knowledge to infuse it into the Bio-gel too, therefore as one cooks with it, a fresh smell envelopes the house,” he says.
Bio-gel burns like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), but requires one to use a special type of a stove. To confirm its efficacy for mass use, he sought partnership with Tropical Pesticides Research Institute in Tanzania under Prof Elininyaga Kweka, an entomologist, to do the necessary tests and ascertain that indeed, Bio-gel is safe for use - Prof Kweka has also facilitated the project with special stoves that can be used with the fuel.
Later, some samples were taken to the Kenya Intellectual Property Institute (KIPI), who gave the green light for the innovation to be commercialised.
Jiveri says that the priority would be to roll out the product to rural and urban communities affected by the mosquito menace while at the same time, also need an alternative and affordable clean source of fuel.
One litre of Bio-gel fuel burns continuously for 10 hours; it takes five minutes to boil a litre of water compared to LPG that takes seven minutes. One litre of Bio-gel is retailing at Sh100, with one household of four being able to use a litre for four days.
As a clean fuel, Bio-gel has been tested and found to reduce carbon emissions by about 80 per cent. Unlike wood or charcoal, it does not produce soot or carbon monoxide. With funding from ICIPE’s BioInnovate Africa, that supports African biobased scientists and innovators, Jiveri is currently operating a pilot project that is producing Bio-gel fuel, which he is supplying to 1,000 households in Vihiga and Kisumu Counties.
The scale of producing the Bio-gel fuel has greatly reduced – Jiveri estimates by 80 per cent, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Fruit-selling markets are the source of raw material used to produce Bio-gel fuel. The markets are not as vibrant as before, and customers buy fruits to consume at home, which affects the access to bulk waste of fruit-peelings from the markets to produce the fuel,” he explains.
Mr Mbeo Ogeyo, an Energy and Climate Change researcher with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Africa Centre, says although the cost of renewable energy has declined, the upfront cost has not reached comfortable levels for adoption by poor rural communities, where the national grid is yet to reach.
He adds that the national and county governments should reduce and stabilise tariffs through open and honest contracting methods to encourage more players with cheaper and innovative ways of contributing to energy generation especially for the vulnerable cluster in society.
Jiveri’s invention has won several accolades and recognition locally and internationally. His star started shinning early, for instance, while in Form three at Koitabut High School, during the Kenya Science Congress in 2006, he was awarded a trophy and Sh10,000 for designing a body cooler for use by villagers who could not access a mortuary.
In primary school, Jiveri often accompanied his grandfather, a herbalist, as he went about his work.
“My grandfather was a staunch Christian. One day he told me ‘in these green plants that you see around, God has provided a cure for every ailment that afflicts human beings’. I pledged to live his legacy after his death in 2003 through coming up with simplified solutions to serve the poor,” he explains.
Together with partners at Maseno University, and others in Tanzania and Uganda, Jiveri intends to establish a functional Bio-gel fuel processing facility operating as a business enterprise in Vihiga through funding from BioInnovate Africa.