Improving bioenergy use and policy in East Africa


International multidisciplinary research encourages the uptake of sustainable bioenergy practices in Kenya, India, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

What was the problem? 

Biofuels are renewable fuels derived from plant or animal material. Increasing their use as an alternative to fossil fuels is important globally for people’s access to energy and livelihoods. However, many people still cook using traditional fuel and stoves. Without improved stoves or fuel, it is estimated that, by 2030, over 30 million people will have died due to smoke-related diseases.

Imposition of illegal taxes on charcoal is also cause for concern in moving towards more sustainable energy use, and it is important that biofuel production does not threaten food production.

What did we do? 

This research found out how biofuels are currently used in Africa. Dr Thomas Molony’s fieldwork in Tanzania showed that many people who could use biofuels are not aware that the technology exists. He also identified problems in the supply chain. A shortage of technicians and lack of investment mean that biogas is not used as frequently as it could be.

Molony researched widespread illegal taxation in charcoal production and marketing in Kenya. He also explored gender issues for bioenergy use in Kenya and Tanzania. In such countries, it is usually women who carry the burden of poverty and are responsible for collection of material for biofuel, as well as cooking and other household tasks. As African countries update their bioenergy policies, there is a chance for more equal social roles and opportunities between men and women to be developed as part of wider reforms of the sector.

Molony’s initial research contributions on bioenergy feedstocks and appliances in various regions in Tanzania was crucial in helping my research team locate various materials for testing. Without this research, we would not have been able to identify locally available materials.
Dr H. M. Rajabu, ‘Jiko Bomba’ project
What happened next? 

The United Nations aim at ‘Sustainable Energy for All by 2030’. Molony’s research on bioenergy is helping Africa move towards this target.

Farmers, vendors, police and local officials received a copy of The Kenya Charcoal Policy Handbook, produced in English and in Swahili, based on Molony’s research, to inform as many people as possible of their rights when trading charcoal, to help avoid illegal taxes.

Molony worked with government officials in Kenya to help write Kenya’s National Biofuel Policy. His work has also led to the creation of a Gender Working Group in Tanzania to promote gender equality in bioenergy policy.

Another major research impact was the improvement of a gasifier stove called Jiko Bomba. Molony identified two residues of plants already used to produce biodiesel - rice husks and jatropha cakes - as valuable fuel sources for the stove. Both are agricultural waste, and jatropha can grow on land that is not suited for food crops. The ambition is that the gasifier stove works efficiently on energy supplies from Kenya that do not damage local food supplies. It will also avoid the smoke-related illnesses and deaths that burning firewood can lead to.

About the researcher(s)

Vice Principal International; Professor of African and Development Studies
Lecturer in African Studies

Research unit

Subject area:
  • Social Policy


  • UK Department for International Development

Related study programmes