How our factory in Kenya thrives on sustainable practices

Two huge white domes dominate the landscape alongside the Sagana River, near Murang’a in the Central Highlands of Kenya.

At 6m high and 22m across they dwarf the sizable factory and packhouse next door, where Olivado packs fresh avocados for export to Europe and produces 90% of the World’s organic extra virgin avocado oil.

This is our incredible biogas plant, which allows us to take the by-products from our factory and turn them into useable methane to power the factory, provide fuel for vehicles, and produce 3,000 MT of fertilizer.

biogas dome

Olivado in Africa

Olivado first started about 20 years ago, the brainchild of an enterprising team of businessmen and scientists.

It wasn’t long before we built a factory in New Zealand’s Northland, extracting the oil from local avocados using our new, pioneering cold-extraction method to create the best avocado oil in the country.

As we began to grow over the next few years, it became clear our avocado supply in New Zealand wasn’t going to be enough if we ventured onto the international stage, so it was then we started to look for a larger and more reliable source.

Australia and South America were considered, but in the end, we decided on the central highlands of Kenya for our new factory.

A test facility near Nairobi was launched in 2007, and within six months we had sourced over 700 small farm holdings from local farmers.

Our success continued and in 2011 we built our own factory in Murang’a, near Thika. It is here where our incredible biogas plant was built.

There was no research in using avocado waste as feedstock for biogas, so we started an in-house research project in 2011 to determine how much methane avocado waste would produce.

This took almost two years. We also designed our biogas plant to ensure it worked in the African environment. The research and design were independently reviewed in Germany as part of obtaining a DEG grant, a German Government agency which encourages renewable energy.

Eight years later we have an operating biogas plant that has exceeded the initial expectations of methane production by 20%.

Olivado biogas plant

How the biogas plant works

Anaerobic digestion refers to a special treatment applied to organic, biodegradable materials, such as food waste, slurry, sewage sludge and manure.

This organic material, known as biomass, is naturally broken down until it emits a constituent gas mostly comprised of methane. This is known as biogas.

The domes at our site in Murang’a cover two large anaerobic digesters, which consume waste from the production of our avocado oil, and convert the waste into biogas.

These two digesters produce up to 5,000 cubic metres of biogas per day and are the first of their kind in East Africa.

The biogas, already with a high methane content of around 66%, is then further purified by removing carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, water and contaminants producing natural gas with a 94% methane content.

Sustainability through our biogas plant

With this clean natural gas, Olivado can power the two generators which run the factory, coolstores and our packhouse.

Even the vehicles we use at the site, including the trucks used by our teams of avocado pickers, the field officers’ cars, and the staff buses, are all fueled by natural gas cylinders, filled as required at the bottling plant.

Pipes leading from the generators to the production plant carry hot water used in processing, running it through a heat exchange system which then sends cold water back to the generators.

In the pipeline this year is a solid-liquid separator, which will separate the effluent from the two digesters into liquid and solids, producing over 3,000 MT of potent bio-fertiliser. The solids will be bagged and liquid bottled before being returned to Olivado farmers for use on their farms, closing off a perfect sustainable cycle.

Helping the planet one bit at a time

We are very conscious of our impact on the world, which is why we do everything we can to minimise our carbon footprint.

This biogas plant is just one example of how we aim for total sustainability in our business.

Our small farmer holdings in Kenya are mapped, bio-diversity protected, with each tree noted, assessed and inspected to ensure organic compliance.

The farms are regularly visited by our field officers, who work closely with the farmers year-round, providing education in farm management, organic fertilizing and water sustainability. All 2,000 small farmers practice ‘Climate Smart’ agriculture. This has been part of a 5-year programme with New Zealand’s Plant and Food Research, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade,

Olivado’s factory in Kenya is managed and staffed by Kenyans. We have a policy of employing staff with initiative, not necessarily education, and in doing so, we believe in giving everyone a fair chance to make a decent living.

If you would like to know more about our commitment to sustainability, our products, or anything else about Olivado, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.