top of page

Circular Economy Information: 

Joint csti-icca-cebib niw 2018 workshop on circular economy

The transfer of environmental scientific and technological knowledge to communities focused on sustainable development is the core of CSTI's work.  

Science as a Service is not just a community outreach gimmick.  Science as a Service refers to increased transparency and collaboration in scientific research so that community level innovation can be guided by sustainable business value as well as localised ethics and preferences.

After two years (2016-2017) of community outreach, we have learned that the most effective service we can deliver has three components:

  1. Research linkages and scoping on the transfer of advanced environmental research (biochemical impacts, biomaterials formulation, hazard prevention) to the community level.

  2. Curate and disseminate information pertaining to circular economy innovation.

  3. Pilot demonstration projects focused on toxicity reduction and materials flow analysis.


During Nairobi Innovation Week 2018 we received input for multiple stakeholders through a variety of events CSTI either sponsored or was invited to join as a participant. Feedback received was that the community would be better served if CSTI would provide contextualised information that enables the understanding of scientific data and how it can be applied by individuals or Micro, Small &  Mid-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) eager to champion the circular economy transition.

Before we share content it is important to share the perspective with which we approach circular economy issues.  Although current industrial sectors are siloed, we need to transition towards the integration of multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral interventions. 


CSTI will help to bridge the bio-economy transition across multiple sectors (Bio-X conversion) by showcasing how the new technologies can be used to address multiple challenges simultaneously.  We will also find ways to use ICT and the Arts to disseminate scientific knowledge.  

UEAB Genomics team wins best idea stage startup at NIW 2018
UEAB Genomics team wins best idea stage startup at NIW 2018
niw 2018 startup competition closing ceremonies - we have also learned many kenyan science majors love the fine arts and want to use art to explain science...

Another philosophical premise that underpins the CSTI approach is the recognition that systems are both complex and interdependent.  An environmental safety challenge is not just a scientific research issue, an environmental safety challenge affects business sustainability and social integrity as well.  

The transition towards a circular economy involves transforming practices (behavioral and socio-technical change) at each level of Boulding's (1956) Hierarchy.  Moving clockwise in the diagram below represents increasing complexity within the system.  Biotechnology offers a way to reshape the tipping point of our current natural resource depletion towards genetic-social systems we call biomimicry.   CSTI's objective is to provide information that enables communities to develop regenerative adaptive systems that shape the social and industrial frameworks of the future.  We accomplish our objective primarily by mentoring other technical institutions on commercial approaches to circular economy innovation and adaptation.

demos helsinki and peleton club sessions on carbon leapfrogging to renewable energy industrial systems

Talking Trees Forum - Public Lecture Series

Inspired by TEDx, we are sharing recorded lectures to disseminate knowledge on Circular Economy issues.  Unlike TEDx, our lectures are narrowly focused on Bio-Based Circular Economy strategies as an adaptive solution to Climate Change.   


CSTI research is focused on two components of climate change and enviromental adaptation:

(1) INDUSTRIAL Shifts towards biotechnology and biochemistry - a change in knowledge and/or skills (Boulding's open level 3), and

(2) SOCIAL Empowerment - change in behavior and/or beliefs (Boulding's transcendental level 8). 


We talk about a Bio-X strategy because X is a symbolic representation of an industry or skill set that will undergo adaptation (remember Solve for X in your algebra class?).  Complex adaptive systems require integrated thinking from multiple perspectives.  The interconnections between concepts we have previously treated as separate are typically dependent (Y) linkages we have failed to recognize as important factors (we make mistakes when we forget to ask why?).  

Our public lecture series is an attempt to help guide a diverse audience towards integrated thinking on the linkages between our current knowledge/skills and the changes in behavior/belief that are needed to create a bio-based circular economy.  The video content explains what we know.  The transition slides prompt for linkages between the knowledge presented and change in industrial behavior that is needed.  The article references provide an aperture to additional self-guided learning and exploration.  It is our hope the lectures are a useful supplement to existing curricula or personal research.

Boulding's (1956) hierarchy has been translated into learning levels.  Keep in mind learning level progression is not linear.  Sometimes a problem requires multiple levels of simultaneous examination.  

Lecture 1: Climate Change and industrial biotechnology in africa - Introduction to Climate Change and Linkages to New Scientific Methods

African Philosophy applied to scientific and industrial systems reasoning:

Sustainability: Our living spaces serve multiple purposes and we need to make sure our living spaces can sustain our livelihoods


A spider's cobweb is not only its sleeping spring (mattress) but also its food trap (farm). - African Proverb

Interdependent Systems: even though we may believe activity in one area has no effect on anything else, the reality is there are many connections we do not readily observe or think about

If you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other. - Ethiopian Proverb

Technological Limitations: technology has enabled us to change our environment in radically different ways.  However, natural systems, sound reasoning and human skill are equally critical

Even the best cooking pot will not produce food. - African Proverb

Small Effects are Significant: many get obsessed with statistical models and reject anything that seems statistically insignificant.  Ignoring small things or information we do not know creates a Black Swan effect that can be deadly when we falsely believe things that exist are not real.  The climate change effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) was known in 1896 and yet in 2018 we are still trying to begin to take action.  The bioaccumulation of GHGs and toxic pollutants is now at a critical tipping point.

A flea can trouble a lion more than a lion can trouble a flea. - Kenyan Proverb

You can find more proverbs for reflection in this article.

Lecture Objective:

Solve for X: how can we use eco-genomics and metagenomics as tools that enable us to resolve climate change challenges? (Level 3 & 8)

Y depends on: our ability to avoid making the same mistakes that caused the problem when we are trying to solve (what aspects of the solution need to come from levels 0, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and/or 7?) 

Joint CSTI-ICCA-CEBIB  Workshop on Circular Economy (March 6th, 2018 - Nairobi Innovation Week)

The workshop participants were a multi-disciplinary cadre of Bachelor's students from TUK's Science and Technology Students Association, JKUAT's Biochemical Society and UEAB's Genomics Hub.

In depth graduate (Master's and PhD) courses are available at 

ICCA  Technologies Thematic Area 

CEBIB BioTechnology Thematic Area

In depth undergraduate (Bachelor's) courses are available at 

TUK Health Sciences Biotechnology Thematic Area

JKUAT Industrial Biotechnology Thematic Area

UEAB Biological Sciences Conservation or Biotechnology Thematic Areas

Reading materials:

Climate Change Analysis Seasons (the X - independent outcome we are attempting to control is climate change) - not everyone has winter and rainy seasons vary globally so a better set of descriptive categories for global research are  JFM (January, February, March), MAM (March, April, May), JJAS (June, July August, September), OND or SOND (October, November, December or September, October, November, December).  Seasonal forecasts for Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda are available from the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGAD).   Global data are available from NASA's NEX programme as well as the United Nations.  In the US, data can be obtained from The Land Trust Alliance.  EU data are available from Copernicus and the European Environment Agency (EEA)Asia Development Bank has done some research.  The World Bank has been researching Latin America and the CaribbeanEconomic impacts for Kenya can be found in this 2012 report.

Ecogenomics research is enabling the discovery of micro-organisms we did not know about such as methane-metabolising Bathyarchaeota.  We still need to learn more about the function of Bathyarchaeota and other micro-organisms in the global circulation of GHGs and Climate Change effects.  The full study can be found here.

Tools to examine micro changes we do not readily observe but are critical to understanding climate change systems (the Y - dependent and interdependent factors we can experiment with in order to learn if what we believe about the way things affect climate variations is actually true)

We know enzymatic processes are critical biochemical reactions that sustain life.  We know changes in temperature and pH alter enzymatic processes.  We don't know how these enzymatic processes are governed between species or how changes affect the ability of all species to sustain life on Earth as we have known it.  Ecogenomics and Metagenomics give us affordable tools to research these dependencies.  First let us gain a common understanding.  Collaboration and open sharing of information are also essential tools for solving complex problems.  To this end we are collaborating with the Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University and welcome other industrial research partners focused on green chemistry, circular economy or industrial biotechnology.

Level 0: Frameworks  

The pursuit of a sustainable bio-economy transition at the transcendental level (level 8) requires a shift towards establishing a global consensus on the ethics of care and professional conduct in industrial activities.  In addition, an effective circular economy requires a higher level of safety standards.  Toxins and pollutants are bad enough the first time around; there is no logic or value in circulating toxins and pollutants.


Tiered Protocol for Endocrine Disruption (TiPeD): Overview and Testing Methods

Applied research examples: TAMLs and zebra fish safety study  Zebra fish assays

   Testing for safer polymers in consumer products

   Eliminating Bisphenol A from water


Bioethics, the precautionary principle and genomics research


Applied research example: Designing safety switches to prevent unwanted DNA mutations

Ethical frameworks for managing sustainability in engineering

Applied research example: Design ethics when helping vulnerable populations to solve problems

 Applying ethical standards to participatory water planning

 Values for engineering and business managers

Level 1: Simple Dynamic

Collaborative learning also requires open sharing of information and lessons learned when attempting to solve complex problems.  At CSTI we tend to prefer open source platforms that are affordable to those with very low incomes.  Affordable information sharing ensures lack of finances is not an impediment to learning or innovation.  The transition to a bioeconomy requires engagement at all socio-economic levels.  Sustainability is an inclusive practice. 

BioBricks Public Domain Chronicle

BioBricks Open Material Transfer Agreement

iGEM Registry for Standard Biological Parts

BioBricks BioNet peer-to-peer exchange and tracking of biomaterials 

Nature Protocols Journal Protocol Exchange

Open BlockChain projects

Level 2: Cybernetic

Social media tools enable community engagement in the discussion of complex problems.   CSTI has partnered with The Kijiji to develop public engagement through our Talking Trees Forum.  Please stay tuned as this initiative evolves.  We hope to similar engagement across Africa.

Level 3: Open

This public lecture series is our platform for knowledge transfer.  We are hoping the series will facilitate applied eco-genomics and metagenomics industrial biotechnology research for project teams across Africa.  Additional open courses are available:


Carnegie Mellon University Institute for Green Science course on Chemistry and Sustainability

Carnegie Mellon University Environmental Decision Making, Science and Technology 

MIT Open Courseware Introduction to Biological Engineering Design

We particularly like this module on using the abstraction process to develop an arsenic biosensor 

Over the years we hope to see collaborative research teams across Africa that contribute to applied knowledge on environmental issues in industrial biotechnology.   Here are examples

Imperial College Environment and the Microbiome Research Group

African industrial biotechnology research on cotton 

African researchers tackle biosafety in biotechnology

Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI) Swedish-African Industrial Biotechnology Partnerships

Level 4: Genetic-Social

As humans, we prefer simple communication.  However, our preference for simplicity can also lead to the propagation of erroneous understanding.  Before we explain scientifically, let us explain philosophically. 


If one hears the statement: "Mary is a happy person," all we know is that Mary is female and perceived to have a content disposition.  We do not know Mary's age, height, family relationships, profession, and we certainly do not know if the statement was intended to mean Mary is always happy or there was a particular situation that caused Mary to be happy.  A lot of information is left out of the sentence and it is best not to assume we know the information that is missing.

Now let us go into a science example.  A common phrase across all cultures is "we breathe in oxygen and we breathe out carbon dioxide."  Reality is more complex.  In what we consider to be normal, unpolluted air, we humans only breathe in 21% oxygen.  Most of the air we breathe in is nitrogen (78%), 1% is inert gas (e.g. argon), there is a little carbon dioxide (0.04%), and also water vapour aka humidity.  You can read more about the air we breathe in this wikibook.  Many people are surprised to learn that breathing too much oxygen can be harmful to humans.  The ratios of different gases in what we call air need to remain proportional so that humans can breathe healthily. 


Most people would agree automotive transport is a benefit.  A 30 minute walk is a 5 minute drive without traffic congestion and the 15 minutes of time saved can be used to finish an errand before going into a meeting.  Unfortunately, automobiles also emit a lot of carbon dioxide which changes the ratio of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe (remember, we are only supposed to breathe in 0.04%).  Even more alarming, if gasoline has additives to increase fuel efficiency, some of these additives can cause brain damage because we are not supposed to breathe them at all.  Lead is one such additive that is highly toxic.  When Kenyan news media report findings of lead particulates in Nairobi air, we should start focusing on changes to our gasoline and transportation behaviour so that we reduce the risks to our health. 


Automobile use is not the only human activity we need to monitor.  We started with air to make you aware of the pollution we do not see (e.g. lead particles in the air) and how the negative impacts on human health.  Hopefully this has helped increase your awareness of the linkages between social (human) activity and genetic activity.  Industrial activity other than transportation also has genetic health impacts.  Decomposing organic matter increases methane emissions.  Although there are some simple steps that can reduce methane emissions on farms, the steps are not so simple when it comes to garbage dumpsites and landfills.  Landfills contain a mixed accumulation of garbage that produces both visible problems (dead sea animals caught in plastic debris that flies off landfill heaps) and not so visible problems (birth defects from chemicals that leach into water and soil).  You can read more about the health problems caused by landfill waste.  The goal of the circular economy approach goes beyond recycling and returning used products to the manufacturer (closed-loop systems).  The goal of the circular economy approach is to design products in a way that their production, use and disposal is beneficial to both the environment and human health regardless of where the product is used in a forward-loop system (the traditional supply chain systems we are used to).  You can read more about the evolution of circular economy material flow analysis and "sound material societies) in this book chapter


One tool that helps us increase our awareness on the pollution we create is Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).  Life Cycle Analysis includes an examination of raw material costs versus availability, energy consumption, and how long a product will last after it has served its commercial purpose. Take a look at how LCA is used to measure the environmental impact of buildingsNow take a look at an LCA analysis of landfills.  Think of a commercial product you enjoy using.  How many years do you use the product?  Now think of the number of years needed to produce the raw material, including the energy.   If the product has a petroleum component (very likely if electricity was used to make your product), the fossil residue from which the petroleum was extracted took millions of years (as in before dinosaurs roamed the Earth) to create.  If you are concerned about a natural balance in human systems, you want the time nature needs to make the raw materials to be relatively equivalent to the time you will use the materials (this is what we referring to in the Bio-X video above when we talk about keeping production within planetary boundaries and the need to avoid materials scarcity reducing our wasteful use of natural resources).  Have you used any of your commercial products for millions of years?  What is the value of a raw material (petroleum) that began its formation before humans existed?  Is 20Ksh an adequate financial measure?  Should we be using raw materials that are closer in value to the time nature took to produce them?


Now let us better understand Kenya's ban on single use plastic bags.   Keep the sound material society concept foremost in your mind.  We know petroleum based plastics will take hundreds of years to fully decompose (the product life cycle exceeds the human life cycle of multiple generations of humans and yet only one generation at a time uses the products).  We also know that when plastic patches float in water the plastics are exposed to ultraviolet light and release chemicals that cause cancer and/or genetic mutations (endocrine disruptors) into the water, fish absorb these chemicals, then we eat the fish.  Yes plastics have simplified our lives and have many benefits from storage to medical devices to mobile phones.  However, using Life Cycle Analysis and toxicity analysis as the evaluation lens, are the plastics we have been using a sound material that benefits society?


Before we switch to a different type of plastic (e.g. bioplastic) there are several questions we need to explore:

1. Does the new raw material offer the same benefits as the plastic we are used to (can it be used the same way)? 

2. Does the new raw material solve the problems we are having (can it decompose quickly and does it reduce toxicity)?

3. Is the new raw material available in enough quantities to supply our demand for plastics over the current and future generations?

4. How will consumers be able to easily distinguish the new improved plastic from the previous plastic?

CSTI is one of many global research institutions examining the formulation of bioplastics.  We share the belief of our research counterparts that a safe solution can be developed for bioplastics that do not compromise food security.  The challenge is to use raw material sources that are abundant in Kenya as well as to develop bioplastic formulations that are optimized for Kenya's industrial supply chains.  We want to make sure we reduce the human and ecological genetic problems caused by the social need to use plastic products.  Our bioplastic research has begun with the examination of invasive plant species, in particular, the ecological plague we know as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and the invasive species we have become accustomed to known as elephant grass/ napier grass/Uganda grass/giant king grass (African Pennisetum purpureum Schumach) .   Our applied use case is food packaging.  We will explore the development of biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA is easier to remember and pronounce) plastic derived from the  baccillus subtilis bacteria (see above reading materials on enzymatic chemical reactions).  Our Life Cycle Analysis begins with finding alternative applications for the extracted cellulose, in this case we examine cellulose water purification.  The reason for examining alternative applications is a supply chain integration justification - for a circular bio-economy to flourish we want to have multiple suppliers and industries exchange material by-products.  Our initial results confirm both species can be used.  Invasive plant species are often difficult to eradicate.  CSTI is not advocating the deliberate growth of invasive plant species.  Instead, our position is that the industrial use of invasive plant species is a more cost effective mitigation strategy when compared to current mitigation efforts because: (1) industrial can consume raw material as fast as invasive species grow, and, (2) a portion of financial revenues from commercial activities can be set aside through the use of harvest permits and other license fees in order to establish a bioprotocol for benefit sharing.  Extensive ecological impact assessments will be needed before our position can be confirmed


In the interim, you can see some of our laboratory analytical capabilities thanks to the diligence of University of Nairobi Chemistry student Anjia Steven Mbae.   Click here for a full copy of the presentation

Vision 2030 Bio-Economy Transformation

Scientific research is an evolutionary (not a revolutionary) process.   The knowledge obtained from Levels 1-3 will enable the transformations needed at Levels 4-8.    The specifics of how to address these changes will be covered in forthcoming public lectures.  We welcome collaboration from research institutions with similar interests.  We especially welcome collaboration from other Kenyan and African research institutions able to confirm our research findings using independent methods because the accumulation of our findings will give credence to what is scientifically and commercially viable in the African circular economy.

NOTICE: Viewing this public lecture does not grant or constitute course credit or certification.  The information is being provided as a public service in response to requests for information on the circular economy and environmental applications of biotechnology.

bottom of page