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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

Kenya Sustainable Cities - Agriwaste Esters

It is often hard to connect the dots for Circular Economy engagement because we do not talk about the interconnections between social activities, scientific activities and industrial activities. 

Let us start to change this paradigm by talking about Esters. We don't mean women named Esther, although they might be leading microbiologists like the late Esther Lederberg who worked at Stanford University.

We are referring to natural esters which are chemical compounds derived from organic or inorganic acids.

One source of natural esters is vegetable oil and in Kenya we have a strong soya bean industry. Socially we eat soya beans and also enjoy soya milk.

We are focusing on avoiding the food-industrial use conflict because we are focused on innovation pertaining to soya bean agriwaste as eco-friendly biocatalysts

Novel eco-friendly biocatalyst: soybean peroxidase immobilized onto activated carbon obtained from agricultural waste (2017)

Why does any of this matter for industry? We are all looking for renewable energy solutions. Transformers are "old tech" technologies that still play an active part in energy generation. Transformers need oil and these oils are called esters.

There is a lot we have to sort out on natural esters, including the standards for formulation because, as you alter the chemical composition of compounds, their performance varies and we need natural esters to perform as high as synthetic esters when we conduct transformer oil breakdown tests or analyze moisture equilibrium charts.

There are still limitations on how clean and safe natural esters will be. The first and most obvious safety limit: YOU CANNOT EAT TRANSFORMER OIL EVEN IF IT HAS NATURAL ESTERS! 

The process and chemical reactions inside a transformer fill the oil with heavy metals and carcinogenic compounds such as PCBs. Pancreatic cancer is a risk. 

The Epigenetic Landscape of Pancreatic Cancer Stem Cells

The process of making transformers still needs to be cleaned as well. Workers at transformer manufacturing facilities have higher incidences of pancreatic cancer due to their exposure to toxic solvents. 

Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in Workers Exposed to Chlorinated Hydrocarbon Solvents and Related Compounds: A Meta-Analysis (2001)

The goal of sustainable circular economy innovation is not to eliminate manufacturing but rather to make manufacturing practices safer from a health perspective while simultaneously reducing the amount of industrial waste we produce by re-using waste as value added input. 

We have to make a commitment to stop unsafe practices, particularly the cross border maneno (troublemaking) of stealing transformer oil to use as cooking fuel. Just because it smells nice does not mean that it is safe! Also, the national cost of energy blackouts and transformer repair is a HUGE drain on the economy that vastly exceeds any perceived individual savings from "free oil."  

2010 news report

Watch "Transformer Oil siphoning on the rise" on YouTube (2012 - Uganda)

Transformer oil is not free. Somebody paid the oil and stealing the oil means you are creating a ginormous expense for everyone else (hospital bills, higher electricity prices, death of a loved one who gets pancreatic cancer).

Sustainability is not just about planting trees. Sustainability is about improving health and safety for everybody. 

The question we should always be asking: how do we change so that our behaviour is always safe and healthy? 

We know good behaviour is best practiced early so feel free to share this information and, if you are a secondary school chemistry teacher, contact us about our Micro-Chemistry kits for sale. 

Phone: +254735200458


Price 20,000Ksh without chemicals (includes workbook; ask us for pricing if you need chemicals).

Please allow 3 weeks for delivery. 

We have a guided experiment on making esters that can help your students make the connection between the textbook knowledge and applied knowledge. 

If you are in industry, browse uses for soy and feel free to ask about hiring our researchers to help you develop new products

Here are our R&D collaboration rates

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