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CleanStar's plan to use ethanol to clean up cooking

CleanStar's plan to use ethanol to clean up cooking

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A startup aims to tackle environmental, economic and public health problems in Mozambique's capital by changing what fuel people use to cook food.


CleanStar Mozambique
has opened a biofuel plant to produce cassava-based ethanol fuel in an effort to replace charcoal, a cookstove fuel used by 80 percent of urban African families.

CleanStar will produce and sell ethanol for cooking as well as a modern cookstove designed to use the fuel.

The company, formed two years ago by industrial enzyme maker Novozymes and CleanStar Ventures, is tackling an economic, environmental and public health problem in Africa. The widespread use of charcoal to cook food has created a $10 billion market. Its production also has devastated million of acres of forests.

As the population and demand for charcoal increases -- and forests dwindle -- the price has shot up. In Maputo, Mozambique's capital, charcoal prices have doubled over the past three years, CleanStar said. The cost of fuel is a huge issue in the country, where more than 50 percent of the population live on less than a $1 a day.

Charcoal has exacted more than an economic toll on the folks who use it for cook food. The World Health Organization says inhaling charcoal smoke has the health impact of smoking packs of cigarettes a day. The organization estimates that indoor air pollution from solid fuel use, including charcoal, causes almost 2 million  deaths a year.

The facility will produce two million liters a year of ethanol-based cooking fuel from surplus cassava supplied to the company by local farmers. CleanStar has worked with farmers over the past year to help them shift from slash-and-burn farming to conservation techniques that will increase their production. The company provides basic technical assistance to farmers and buys their surpluses at rural agriculture centers in surrounding communities. The surplus cassava to converted to ethanol. Beans, sorghum, pulses and soya are processed into packaged food product for sale in cities.

Photo: CleanStar Mozambique

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure