Novozymes establishing food-energy business in Africa

By Holly Jessen | September 22, 2011

Novozymes and CleanStar Ventures announced a joint project Sept. 21 that will replace thousands of charcoal-burning cookstoves in Mozambique with cleaner-burning ethanol stoves. The integrated food-energy business is expected to improve human health and slow deforestation in Africa. “Through this partnership, local communities in Africa will be able to produce more food and energy while at the same time improving their health, restoring forests, cleaning the air, and growing the economy,” said Novozymes Executive Vice President Thomas Nagy.

The enzyme and biotechnology company and the environmental venture group have partnered with a number of other companies in the business. For example, ICM Inc. is working with Novozymes to design and build the equipment for the food and ethanol cooking fuel production facility. The one gallon-per-minute production facility is currently under construction, ICM told EPM. In addition, Novozymes and CleanStar Ventures are also in discussions with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which may serve as a carbon finance associate helping to maximize the monetary value of carbon emission reductions associated with the project.

Using CleanStar Mozambique’s business model, famers can move from charcoal production and slash-and-burn agriculture to growing crops and trees, improving nutrition and improving degraded soils. What families don’t consume themselves they can sell to CleanStar Mozambique, increasing their income by up to 500 percent. Using what it purchases from farmers, CleanStar Mozambique will produce a wide range of food products and an ethanol-based cooking fuel produced from cassava. The cooking fuel will be sold into urban markets.

More than 80 percent of urban families in Africa buy charcoal to cook their food. Charcoal is a major driver in cutting down hundreds of millions of trees yearly, resulting in mass deforestation across Africa. In addition, solid fuel use causes indoor pollution thought to be damaging to human health, according to the World Health Organization and United Nations Development Program. The goal is that by 2014, 20 percent of households in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, will cook with a clean and competitive alternative to charcoal. This will protect 9,000 acres of indigenous forest per year and improve health conditions. “This business model can be replicated and scaled throughout the developing world,” Nagy said. “With CleanStar Mozambique, we hope to show how biotechnology can catalyze the development of agriculture, food, and ethanol industries in developing countries, and create new bio-based markets that benefit local communities and the environment.”