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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

Kenya Sustainable Cities - Data Driven Biomass Fuels

We have the technology to develop biomass fuels. Whether you are talking of the centuries old practice of firewood and charcoal (or anything we can burn) or the modern practices of gasification and biorefinery, we have biomass fuel technology a plenty. What we don't have is data.

Why do we need data? Data enables us to make decisions that are healthy even when we scale up usage. Chopping down one tree in a forest can provide a family with charcoal for 3 months. What is biologically safe if there are 300 families who each need a tree? What if there is a colder than normal rainy season and each 300 of the families needs 1.5 trees in 3 months?

If the forest only has 5,000 trees, how long will it take before the forest is completely t gone? (Answer: 300 families x 1 tree x 3 months x 4 times a year = 3,600 trees . 5,000 trees / 3,600 trees a year = 1.4yrs before the forest is completely gone). How many of us make this calculation before we buy firewood or charcoal (before the country wide ban in Kenya) or cut a tree?

We know how to budget for household expenses but how many of us budget for ecological expenses such as the rate of deforestation? The calculation is simple enough and yet we do not do it. Now imagine if you have to make the calculation by type of tree species. The same way a forest can disappear, a tree species (and other species) can disappear. There is no need to be surprised when this happens. We can make calculations that give us the date. If we are surprised by current environmental conditions it is simply because we have not been making any calculations.

The same need for calculations exists when it comes to the impacts. Are we improving air, soil and water quality or making things worse? We should not try to guess these things, we would measure them.

The World Bank has some baseline data to get us started. Whether you are a head of household or a head of government, take a look at Figure 2, Figure 3, and Table 4. Are those statistics improving or worsening over time in Kenya?

We can monitor the accumulation of our usage across counties and the entire nation by developing a biofuels atlas

It is important to collect data across the entire value chain

Following is a summary of additional data collection points that we should adopt

The deliberate switch to renewable energy and advanced biomass fuels are one of the most exciting industrial transitions (or technology diffusions if your perspective is we have always used them). However, the success of our transition is entirely dependent on the extent to which we gather and analyze data in a way that enables us to prevent the mistakes we have made in the past from getting bigger. As we get better at stopping what we are doing wrong, we can also get better at using data to create healthier environments.

What type of ecological budgeting will you begin starting today?

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