Residents of Boringo County in Western Kenya gather stems from an invasive weed called Juliflora. Cummins Energy Solutions Business is working with the Kenyan government to use the weed to produce power using a Cummins generator.
Posted: Feb. 6, 2014
Inspiration is not often found in the form of a weed.
But when a weed can be turned into fuel for electricity, it can transform lives. And transforming lives is what inspires people like Andrew P. Stone and the Cummins Energy Solutions Business (ESB), which he has been a part of since its beginning 15 years ago.
A division of Cummins Power Generation, the ESB creates high efficiency cogeneration projects where the generator produces both electricity and useable heat from one fuel source. The business is unique in that it operates as a small company but with global capability. ESB cogeneration systems power a sports center in Shanghai, a landfill in London, a tomato grower in Belgium and numerous other facilities across every continent.
At the heart of ESB are Cummins’ lean burn generator sets, running on pipeline natural gas or alternative fuels like an invasive weed in Africa, an ESB project now under development in Kenya.
Producing energy more efficiently is at the crux of ESB: Every 1 megawatt (MW) of cogeneration saves an estimated 2,700 tons of carbon dioxide (C02) a year—and ultimately saves customers on their energy costs.
Since its beginning in 1999, ESB has focused on solving issues holistically for customers and most, first and foremost, want to save money. But the business can also help customers comply with emission standards, improve the reliability of their power supply and demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility.
“We really have changed some people’s lives,” said Stone, Cummins Power Generation’s Director of Project Companies, reflecting on the ESB’s past. “Some businesses, without cogeneration, would have gone bust. It wasn’t just nice to have. It was the difference between having a business and not having a business.”
The beginning of the Energy Solutions Business is actually rooted in the end of something else. When a Cummins-Wärtsilä joint venture broke apart in 1999, the Power Generation gas business was taken back into Cummins, and ESB developed from that.
The business was a group of four people initially, Stone included. Cummins CEO Tom Linebarger was heading the Power Generation Business at the time, and Stone recalls how he brought a clear focus to the group, which had been struggling to find its niche as a single entity. Linebarger told the team to think of ESB as a mindset, not an entity.
In its early years, ESB did much of its work in Europe, where governments like Belgium, Denmark and Holland were the first to recognize and reward high-efficiency electrical generation. The market for cogeneration was well-established there, with one-third or more of electricity in some countries coming from cogeneration systems.
From Europe, ESB “project companies” sprouted in the South Pacific and the United States, and are now growing in South America and Southeast Asia.
Driving that momentum are rising energy costs coupled with improved technologies for energy-efficient systems. In its first year in business, ESB’s four-man team delivered $1.4 million in sales. Now, sales are over $185 million, and ESB boasts a multiregional organization of hundreds of employees.
Also called combined heat and power (CHP), cogeneration often cuts energy use in half. The systems are 85 to 90 percent efficient compared to 50 percent to 55 percent efficiency from a conventional boiler and electrical power station. A newer concept is trigeneration – combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP).
MAKING LIVES BETTER
ESB typically starts by making an in-depth analysis of a customer’s site and energy needs to determine whether co-generation is the right choice. The business has the know-how and resources to develop a variety of solutions, including turnkey service, spanning everything from planning to installation and even operations.
Stone and his team also work in prime power applications, where electrical generators are the only source of power. This is especially needed in parts of the world where the grid is unreliable or nonexistent.
As natural gas becomes more widely available, lean-burn gas sets from ESB have become increasingly popular as an economical and reliable power solution.
Lastly, there are renewable energy sources like biogas. Stone is eager for this growing field of technology and its ability to transform lives. Methane gas, a byproduct of landfills and water treatment processes, can be captured and turned into fuel for onsite cogeneration at these facilities. The big one on the horizon, according to Stone, is gasification of waste products from agriculture or wood.
This is where the weed in Africa comes in. Prospopis Juliflora was introduced to Kenya in the 1970s as the nation was facing severe drought and the death of livestock, a main source of livelihood for many. Juliflora was planted to stop the land from turning into desert while providing food for livestock.
The plant grew very quickly. Besides blocking native plants from water and sunlight, Juliflora’s thorns and pods injured livestock, even killing some animals. Thirty years after it was introduced, Juliflora was declared an invasive species in Kenya.
One of the areas most affected by Juliflora is Boringo County in Western Kenya, a place where more than half the population lives in poverty and the main sources of income are farming, fishing and ecotourism. Kenya’s Juliflora eradication program aims at clearing the species by putting it to good use, such as biomass for electricity production.
The ESB is working with the Kenyan government to use Juliflora to fuel an energy-efficient 2 MW power plant in Boringo County that could produce as much as 8 MW if the concept works effectively.
“Besides using the crop to produce electricity, the number of jobs we’re creating for harvesting, cleaning, producing and storing the crop means work for about 1,500 local Kenyans,” Stone said.
As the Energy Solutions Business looks toward its next evolution as a business, the biomass plant in Boringo County, Kenya, will surely be a blueprint for how a power solution can do far more than just help customers save on their energy bills.
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