Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa like most cities across Africa, is growing at a very rapid rate. All over the world, cities are growing at a rate of two percent. However, African cities are growing at a much higher rate. Some experts have put the growth of African cities at eight percent.
Unfortunately, the authorities tasked with city planning, and provision of social amenities are overwhelmed by this fast rate of growth. So you find slums and neighborhoods with poor infrastructures sprouting up around cities.
Addis Ababa, like many big cities in Africa, is also experiencing the problem of overstretched social amenities. One of which is poor and completely failed garbage collection and disposal system. The city is home to one of the biggest waste landfills in the continent called the Repi dumpsite. That is where all the garbage and waste from in and around Addis Ababa.
The dumpsite has gotten so big that it covers about 36 football pitches. The dumpsite other being an eyesore comes with other adverse effects such as diseases, pollutions, and has been linked to a number of deaths.
It is against this backdrop that Samuel Z. Alemayehu came up with an innovative solution to conquer the mountain of garbage at Repi dumpsite. Alemayehu wants to use the garbage to produce electricity to power households across Addis Ababa.
Alemayehu is the co-founder and managing director of Cambridge Industries, whose mission is to produce electricity from the garbage. By profession, Alemayehu is an engineer trained at Stanford and can be rightly described as a serial entrepreneur as he has a number of tech startups to his name.
He is currently overseeing the construction of what would be Africa’s first waste-to-energy plant. Alemayehu and team say the plant will be able to convert 80% of the waste (1,400 tons) of garbage daily. The energy produced will be enough to power 30% of households in Addis Ababa.
Alemayehu plan tackles problems on two fronts; it will eliminate the mountain of garbage while providing electricity to households. At the same time it will rehabilitate the Repi dumpsite space while reducing the release of poisonous gasses from the accumulating wastes; gases such as methane and other toxins flowing from the dumpsite and into rivers.
Alemayehu also has an ambitious plan of replicating the same plant in other African countries including Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Cameroon, and Djibouti. The government of Ethiopia has welcomed the project, mainly since it falls in line with its effort to make the country a middle-income economy by 2025.
Alemayehu, who is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, says the project is quite timely given the numerous growing cities across the continent facing the challenge of handling wastes.
“African cities have seen explosive growth in the past three decades and have outgrown the infrastructure planned for them,” said Alemayehu. “We believe these plants will create for African megacities a modern, multipurpose infrastructure, using new technology, which will enable them simultaneously to dispose of waste, generate sustainable energy, clean, and reuse water, recycle valuable resources, generate industrial grade steam for use by other businesses, and, most importantly do all this in one facility located safely within city limits.”
A little history on Alemayehu
Alemayehu is a poster child of the fight against brain drain. Though born in Ethiopia, he was raised in the U.S., with his mother having to take odd jobs and make other sacrifices to see him through school. Luckily, he was a bright student and managed to secure scholarships that saw him study in some of the prestigious universities in the U.S.
He studied engineering at Stanford University, and after finishing, he came back to Africa and settled in Ethiopia where he is now using his knowledge and resources to make a difference in his community.
While the project is admirable, one can’t help but wonder what the carbon footprint of burning garbage, to produce steam, that turn turbine that generates electricity is. But we will give Alemayehu the benefit of the doubt, and hope he has somehow come up with an innovative system that somehow mitigate the release of too much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.