Could this startup help prevent future fuel crises in Africa?

CNN  — 

The light bulb – a simple glass shell with a glowing filament that lights our homes, businesses and cities, once night descends.

A simple convenience most of us take for granted.

But when the sun sets in Africa and darkness falls, many are forced to live through an overnight blackout until the next day dawns. A staggeringly low 24% of the sub-Saharan population have access to electricity with some 25 nations suffering rolling blackouts due to the ongoing energy crisis on the continent, according to the World Bank.

More recently, Makhtar Diop, the global financial institution’s vice president for Africa, called on his African compatriots to do more to solve the continent’s energy struggles.

“All emerging countries have to solve the energy crisis. We have to be on par with other nations, ensuring we produce enough energy for Africa at affordable rates,” said Diop at the International Conference on the Emergence of Africa in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Moreover, the recent crippling fuel crisis in Nigeria was a stark reminder of our dependance on oil.

But while leaders and global organizations continue to work toward implementing a sustainable infrastructure to ease the crisis, entrepreneurs are also taking it upon themselves to provide solutions for alternative energy.

In Zambia’s capital Lusaka, Mutoba Ngoma saw a need for action – and with his extensive background in aeronautical engineering, the shrewd businessman decided to do something about it.

He says: “I had just completed my schooling in the UK in aeronautical engineering and I came across a program about renewable energy in Brazil. At the same time Zambia was going through fuel shortages.”

He founded Tapera – a biofuel company that converts used vegetable oil into fuel – in 2006 with a two-fold mission in mind: increase the country’s fuel supply sustainability and provide vocational training and stable job opportunities.

At first it was very much a backyard business – with around 200 liters a month cleaned and processed. Today that figure has ballooned to 3,000 liters each month and generates about $15,000. The astute technologist has also started designing his own oil processing machines, in turn, steadily building his client base.

“We’ve got one major client that takes the bulk of what we produce and then we’ve got about seven or eight small clients that come in for small quantities.”

Even though Ngoma had established a fairly stable business – they still faced challenges of finding enough used vegetable oil for their bio-diesel. So the discerning businessman decided to diversify their product range – with soap.

“The idea of making soaps came about as a result of one of our challenges of securing enough raw material for the diesel. We realized as we were waiting for more oil to come about we could actually be producing something else. And we found that we could actually produce soap from the same oil.

“So we just had to clean it a bit more and it’s even cheaper to process than the diesel. We stuck with it because we felt it is also a good income generator.”

Watch the video below to learn more about how Ngoma is growing his bio-fuel business.

africa start up vegetable oil spc_00002225.jpg
Used vegetable oil runs cars in Africa
02:47 - Source: CNN

Read more: How did Nigeria nearly run out of gas?

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