SETTING UP INDUSTRY » AVAILABILITY OF CHEAP RAW MATERIALS INSPIRES ENTREPRENEUR Patrick Ngatia experimented on a number of business projects before finding that making cheap fuel sources is his niche 100 Sacks of briquette that an electronic extruder can make in a day
When Patrick Ngatia quit his metal forging workshop business 10 years ago, he had no specific venture in mind.
He tried tapping sap from cypress trees to make local inhalers and this proved futile.
He made soap oils, a concoction of avocado and other plant matter, but it did not work as the product was too dark. He turned to making local engine lubricants, which the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) rejected on grounds that it had a low boiling point.
That is why Money found that part of his workshop in Nyeri has been turned into a museum of sorts. Bottled products of his failed ventures lined the shelves: A litre of avocado oil, a tube of cypress sap, and a container of an ingredient he says he wanted to use to make soap.
“I never stopped trying. It has always been my nature to experiment on anything I think can make something,“ he said.
“But I am a poor marketer; everything I produced never got to be known because I did not have contacts. I stayed with it.“
The former Air Force man and father-of-four later realised that he could make money from making briquettes -rods of flammable material used for cooking as an alternative to charcoal. It was a breakthrough that has fuelled him since.
Two things influenced this: “There were plenty of coffee husks around here and I could get them for free. There was also a lot of sawdust which I could get at a low price here in town,“ he said. Then he watched a documentary which demonstrated how to make briquette extruders and borrowed from it.
Today his workshop churns out tens of sacks of briquettes every day which are dried in the sun, then sold to hotels.
“It is better during the dry season because it means they will dry faster -in about three days. During the cold season, it takes longer, maybe six days.“
Briquettes can be made from mixing red soil, a binder -often wax -with any of the following: Coffee husks, sawdust, cassava and banana peelings, or maize cobs. All you need to do is mix any of these substances in the ratio of 10:1 with the binder, add some water, then mix. The mixture is then poured on the extruder, which rolls it into short, black wet rods resembling coal. The rods are dried and used as briquettes in place of charcoal.
Mr Ngatia also earns money selling briquette-making machines. The electric version of the machine costs Sh150,000 and a manual one goes for Sh12,000. They are assembled from old posho mills and mortars. In a day, electronic extruders can make about 100 sacks of briquettes, each weighing 45 kilos.
Each of the sacks sells for Sh750, which is about Sh400 less than the price of ordinary charcoal.
“It is an economical source of fuel, it burns slowly and for longer, meaning you can cook the same amount of githeri for three times the amount of charcoal. “And I am not complaining because I can afford every basic need. My children are going through school smoothly. It is a good business,“ he said It appears this kind of business is good for the environment too. According to the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP) International, an organisation involved in helping communities adopt cheaper energy, briquettes are both beneficial to the environment and the users.