SPOTLIGHT | Cooking briquette made from 50% human waste

 ‘Talk of the county’


‘I am proud to say that our County has one of the most unique innovations that will transform present and future generations. This briquette made from 50% treated human waste and 50% saw dust is the talk of the country.’

That is what County Governor Lee Kinyanjui of Nakuru tweeted on the day MakaaDotcom, a cooking briquette made from human waste, was officially launched.

The VIA Water project ‘From pit to product’ aims to pilot human waste conversion into biomass-fuels and bio-fertilisers in Nakuru, Kenya. Nakuru, located 160 km northwest of Nairobi, is an agricultural hub. Town population has tremendously increased over the past decades which results in high demand for basic services such as housing, roads, water and sanitation. Low Income Areas (LIAs) house over 370,000 people. Only about 27% of the total population is connected to a sewerage system which results in a majority of pit-latrines or septic tanks, or none of these.

The project tested the use of faecal matter and urine for the production of biomass-fuels and bio-fertiliser. After testing, priority was given to briquette production, for which a factory was built with a capacity potential of 10 tons per day. The briquettes are being sold under the name MakaaDotcom. The name is derived from how the local community started referring to the round shaped carbonised briquettes. There is a local pastry round in shape that is called dotcom. People would ask: ‘do you still have some dotcoms?’ Makaa is the Kiswahili word for coal.

Cooking on briquettes

To produce the briquettes, the human waste goes through a process of drying to ensure no fluids are left, after which the substance is heated to remove all bacteria and turn it into char. Finally it is combined with carbonised sawdust and bound together with molasses through an agglomeration process.

Three improvements are being realised because of the project: better sanitation because the waste is safely removed by trained and certified emptiers; climate-neutral energy through briquettes instead of wood or coal,  and the recognition by water utilities that closing the sanitation loop is providing gains, resulting in higher investments in low-cost sanitation. The project also contributed to legal reforms in which on-site sanitation in the urban context and pit-emptying became recognized.

The innovation has been developed between the local water company who set up a subsidiary company to run the business and local social enterprises and individual stockists that market and distribute the products. For the first time a water service provider in Kenya explored the potential use of sewage sludge thereby providing another stream of revenue for the company. Having derived from the Low Income Consumer’s (LICs) section of Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company Ltd (NAWASSCO) however, the Makaadotcom company remains to have social goals. Sales points are primarily located in the low income areas of the town.

Safe pit emptying

The pilot was run by a consortium of Vitens Evides International, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, NAWASSCO, Scode Ltd. and Egerton University. NAWASSCO acquired a licence from the Natural Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and secured the Kenya Bureau of Standard (KBS) mark of quality to certify the product as safe for use by the public.

The demand for the briquettes is very high, in part due to the community sessions the project hosts. In these meetings, citizens can see for themselves how well the briquettes burn in a cooking stove. The briquettes are also cheaper per packet, and can be used more efficiently. As one of the users of the cooking briquettes puts it: "MakaaDotcom has reduced my charcoal costs by over 50%. I encourage my neighbours to try it, you won't be disappointed"

Cooking stove with briquettes

And it’s not just the users and the County Governor that are supportive of the pilot project. They have recently been selected as one of 25 nominees for the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge; other Kenyan water utilities as well as development partners have visited the site, and interest from other countries is rising.  

Want to read more? Check out the article The Independent wrote on the briquettes.

You can find the VIA Water project page here.