Retired teacher finds new energy in plastics gas

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Source: Business Daily, By JAPHET RUTO

SUMMARY
  • James Mulema and two former colleagues invest Sh5m in recycling business.

At 61, James Isedia Mulema should be enjoying his retirement after 30 years working as a teacher. But he is not slowing down yet, saying his new business gives him earnings of up to 10 times what he used to take home. He is recycling plastic waste into clean gas fuel for domestic use.

 

Mr Mulema, who was a science teacher at four public primary schools in Western Kenya was driven to start his company, Mega Gas Enterprises, by his desire to contribute to a cleaner environment.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 14,300 people die every year from unhealthy conditions caused by indoor air pollution in Kenya.

 

He joined hands with two former colleagues, Evans Mutuva and Simon Isohi, to found Mega Gas in 2015, with an investment of Sh5 million from savings. They now earn Sh300,000 a month in profits.

“I started my research into various ways of decomposing plastic waste six years ago by setting up my own laboratory at home. In 2014, I designed a diesel powered reactor that converts gaseous fuel through a clean process, which I harvested into a cylinder using high pressure,” said Mulema.

“I then forwarded the tests to the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute. The officers there helped me narrow down to one method of producing gas that we achieved through my design of a fractional chamber. They charged me Sh20,000.”

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Mega Gas, which is located in Vihiga County, sources raw materials that include broken plastic chairs, cement bags and polythene bags from Kisumu’s Kachok dumping site.

 

“Plastics are made using active gases and these gases do not expire when the plastics are worn out and are discarded,” said Mr Mulema. Once plastic waste is loaded into the reactor, it is switched on to reach a temperature of about 750 degrees Celsius, which enables easy decomposition of the plastic waste.

 

The gases produced are passed through a filter where solid substances are sieved and gas is compressed and dried. The equipment also filters all particulates from smoke to maintain a clean environment.

Mega Gas refills at least 200 six-kilogram cylinders a day, from up to two metric tonnes of plastic waste, with each new, full cylinder retailing at Sh3,550. Refilling costs Sh350, which is 41 per cent cheaper than the current retail prices of competitor gas cylinders.

 

“Innovation is about cutting the cost of living, hence our gas prices remain at about half the price of liquefied petroleum gas,” said Mr Mulema. He plans to establish a plant in Nairobi in the next two to three years.

Mr Mulema undertook his first training in 2014 at Kenyatta University’s Chandaria Business Innovation Centre.

In 2017, he was mentored at IbizAfrica, which provides a nurturing environment for businesses that work for the common good of society, and the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KenyaCIC), which supports locally climate and clean energy technologies. His company gained technical expertise, business skills and mentorship.

 

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However, like any other business, he has faced various challenges: the main one being the raising of capital to expand the business.

Kenya also recently banned thin plastic bags, and there have been a heated debate on whether plastic water bottles should also be phased out. Because plastics do not decompose easily, they have been listed as heavy polluters, giving recyclers an opportunity to fight pollution and earn.

 

“The high cost of setting up a plant was our main challenge, although we raised funds from friends and savings, enabling us to widen our range of products to include using water hyacinth to manufacture high quality fire- and water-proof ceiling boards.”

 

Mega Gas now has seven permanent skilled workers at the factory and regularly employs 10 to 20 casuals in a day to collect raw materials.

 

For the future, Mulema intends to hire distributors, marketers and retailers as the company targets expansion into two more counties in western Kenya. The company aims to increase its plastic waste processing capacity from the current 1.75 tonnes a day to 10 tonnes a day in the next four years.

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Business Analyst at Tunayo Business Magazine | Follow me on Twitter