Tea is also an energy-intensive business – with huge amounts of thermal-energy consumed in the drying and withering processes. It requires more energy to produce a kilo of tea than a kilo of steel – and in Kenya – this energy is predominantly in the form of firewood. Energy also accounts for a large part of the production cost – so saving energy means saving money.
The Kenya Tea Development Agency is Kenya’s largest tea producer, operating 70 factories across the country that process the tea of more than 600,000 smallholders that are the members of this co-operative based business. KTDA has been working to reduce energy consumption in various ways as well as ensuring sustainable use of resources. By using less energy and reducing production costs, KTDA is able to pay its farmers more money for the tea they grow.
By reducing reliance on firewood through alternative energy sources, KTDA can also lessen its environmental footprint, avoid the unnecessary cutting of trees and contribute to the development of the renewable energy market in Kenya.
Cutting-edge research by Brunel has developed an advanced solar-thermal technology that will be installed as a medium-scale prototype system at a KTDA factory. Sophisticated monitoring systems will measure the system performance to generate energy and cost-saving data during extensive field trials conducted over more than 6 months.
Building on previous research – it is anticipated that the system, which will incorporate thermal-storage to support round-the-clock operation, will demonstrate the potential for a significant reduction of firewood consumption in the factory boilers. The findings of the project will help to illustrate how scaling up the technology can help KTDA to achieve its ambitious sustainability goals and deliver more income to tea farmers.
The project will also provide opportunities for training young Kenyan engineers, with a particular focus on providing opportunities for women.