Between 1990 and 2005, Uganda lost 26.3% of its forest cover. With the current growing rate of deforestation in Uganda, it is predicted that by 2050 all natural forests will be gone – unless we do something about it.
The idea for Bio-Innovations came up to combat this widespread deforestation caused by firewood and charcoal production. Bio-Innovations founder, Alex Tumukunde, wanted to bridge the gap between producer and consumer and provide a sustainable alternative, and began working with the idea to use a waste product and turning it into something useful.
This solution took the form of innovate briquettes. Instead of using whole trees, they collect agricultural and forestry waste, process it and convert it into renewable energy. Not only does using these waste products prevent new trees from being cut down, it also reduces carbon emissions. Some of the ingredients for biomass briquettes (i.e. sawdust, rice husk pellets etc) are usually just decomposed, which even generates dangerous methane, or burned off, generating carbon without any meaningful use.
Their main customers are schools, hotels, bakeries, factories and hospitals – over 95% of their target customers use firewood and charcoal for heating and cooking. The company began production with older machines which produced around three tonnes of briquettes on a daily basis. They were looking for ways to scale up, and found that PFAN would be a good fit for them.
’Through PFAN, I was lucky to actually find a coach and a mentor who has been very supportive’
‘’The main benefit from PFAN for the entrepreneurs is that they get an experienced person who knows the international financing space, who helps them to link them up with international investors. This is something they usually have never done in their lives before,’’ says Lukas Gruener, their PFAN Advisor.
They ordered new machinery in 2019, and by 2020, they were able to increase production from three tonnes to now 20 tonnes daily.
The products are life changing for their customers. ‘’Before these briquettes, we are using the firewood. There were very many effects of firewood. First of all, smoke would spread to the whole place, including the dining area, and some children would run away from the dining. But with these products, the smoke is there, but very little. Secondly, firewood (gathering) used to consume time. But these (briquettes), they are time savers,’’ says Alex.
‘’We are always very happy for sure when you see a client convert to our briquettes, because you find one of the clients, for example, using 5, 10 trucks of firewood every single day. If you compare that to the amount of forest that the person would have actually cleared, to me, actually I feel motivated to keep on moving because I know I’ve reduced on what the client was actually clearing,’’ he says.
Bio-Innovations also has two-fold benefits for women and youth: the production chain is simple to involve local people, creating employment opportunities especially for vulnerable women and youth, thus leading to job generation. The project promises tangible benefits to women and girls who suffer the most from inefficient stoves and charcoal fumes in their homes – as cooking is in Uganda is mostly considered a woman’s household chore – with significantly less fumes emitted from biomass briquettes. Especially in the more peri-urban and rural regions, girls often walk for hours to collect fuel wood for cooking, which can be reduced if affordable alternatives to operate stoves are present.
‘’Every briquette they sell is one tree less cut down, and that’s a very good aspect of this project. They are not only important for PFAN, but for the whole of Uganda and the rest of the world.’’
‘Our call to investors is actually to invest more into Bio Innovations because it’s good for the environment. I’m so grateful to PFAN and the investors for supporting us because we couldn’t do this without their support’.
After preparing them for the investment-ready stage, Lukas advised Bio-Innovations on the availability of the SIMA Energy Access Relief Fund (EARF) facility and helped them create the full application for it, including all additional information requests during Due Diligence. Through PFAN support, Bio-Innovations received an EARF of $100,000 USD. They are currently working with Lukas to secure an additional $500,000 USD in financing to reach their goals.