A new and very interesting project is in its initial phase and takes advantage of how Iceland has used geothermal energy for drying. The project is headed by Matís but in partnership with Geothermal Development Company (GDC) in Kenya. The project receives funding from the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nordic Development Fund (NDF).
The project overall objective is to market by demonstration the substitution of carbon releasing fuels with geothermal energy in drying of major food product in Kenya, namely maize (over 3 million tons annually) where oil is currently the major energy source. This, if adopted at commercial scale will contribute to the global reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and better control of the drying process.
The project will implement engineering knowledge gathered through years of experience in geothermal drying in Iceland to develop cost effective maize drying unit, and install a fully functional pilot unit in Menengai, Kenya. The change from using fossil fuels in the drying process will not only contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases but will also reduce the cost of drying and enhance the quality of dried products.
Maize is the biggest single grain product in Kenya with annual production of over 3 million tons. More than 75% of the local production is provided by small family farms. The Rift Valley accounts for around 70-80% of the national production ( (Kang’ethe, 2011) and (LandO’Lakes, 2013). The major food safety issues in regard to maize in Kenya are contamination with pesticide residues used in maize production and storage and fungal toxins contamination during the pre- and post- harvest period due to insufficient drying (Dudi, 2014).
At industrial level grains are usually dried using mechanical dryers. The mechanical drying processes uses oil/diesel operated dryers, which are considerably expensive energy sources and with high carbon footprint (42 kg CO2/ton product). By using geothermal energy this can be reduced by 95%.
Utilization of the geothermal resources for drying grains (mainly maize) is quite viable and is an opportunity to increase the quality of the product, reduce the carbon foot print and post-harvest losses as well as lowering the cost of drying. Private sector interests at investing in the geothermal technology are presently limited as knowledge and profitability of such an operation is not well understood. To demonstrate to stakeholders that such an undertaking is profitable it is necessary to establish a pilot dryer at Menengai. The pilot project will be used to demonstrate the technology and as a marketing tool to potential investors. Seeing and doing is more effective than written reports.