Dedan Kimathi University of Technology - Centre for Biomass Energy Studies

Water and Energy Efficiency in the Tea Sector

Innovation Type

Water-Energy-Food

Country of Incorporation

Kenya

Country(ies) of Implementation

Kenya

Product Segment

Water - Re-use / Efficiency, Energy - Agricutural Processing

Challenge

Tea is the second leading foreign exchange earner after horticulture in Kenya. The country exported USD 1.1 billion of tea in 2019, while approximately 60% of the export was from small holder producers. The sector’s importance is underscored by the critical role it plays in socio-economic life of rural farmers and their families. It is estimated to employ 560,000 farmers and supports approximately 3 million people, while about 8% of Kenya population depends on earnings from tea farming.

However, tea farming in Kenya is facing immense pressure from multiple quarters and this is threatening to significantly impact on the earnings of the small-scale farmers and their dependents. One critical area is energy. Energy (both thermal and electrical) accounts for between 25% and 30% of the total cost of producing a kilogram of tea. Studies have shown that the Kenya tea sector, and specifically the small holder tea sector managed by KTDA, has off-industry benchmark energy utilization indices. The 70+ tea factories in this category, burn more wood fuel and consume more electricity to produce the same amount of tea compared to similar tea factories owned by private entities. The high wood fuel consumption in tea growing region of Kenya has contributed to rapid deforestation and attendant effects on climate and environment. Kenya’s government ban on wood fuel harvest from government and community owned forest created a shift in supply towards individually owned wood plantations shifting deforestation to farmlands and creating competition between the factories and local communities for wood fuel.

Most tea factories in Kenya do not carry out factory wide energy or water metering. This means there is little actionable data to inform the factories’ energy and water management strategies. The problem is compounded by lack of requisite knowledge in energy and water management and a production system that is mechanized but has very low levels of automation.

Solution

  1. Tea factories thermal energy efficiency improvements targeting biomass energy sources (wood fuel, briquettes, industrial process waste). Improvement of the targeted fuels energy density (calorific value) and flammability through a combination of activities including but not limited to wood fuel plantations management, wood fuel pre-treatment (debarking, splitting, chipping and seasoning), briquetting of agricultural/ industrial process waste (rice husks, coffee husks, macadamia and cashew nuts shells etc.).
  2. Tea factories energy and water efficiency improvement. Development of a demo, internet of things (IoT) based smart factory energy and water management system where equipment, such as fans and lighting appliances, are controlled wirelessly based on humidity levels in the withering house and lamps switched on based on light intensity. Water is distributed and supplied to end users based on real-time demand. With learning capability through integration of Artificial intelligence (AI) the system will have both predictive and prescriptive capabilities.
  3. Baseline mapping of water consumption by tea processors (tea factories) in Kenya’s tea sector and development of industry water consumption benchmark. Trainings, seminars and workshops on energy and water efficiency in agro-processing industries.
  4. Demonstration of smart water metering and how the same can contribute to water conservation in tea factories and related industries. Potentially data from the water metering will be integrated into the smart factory system as highlighted in bullet number two.

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