Building Markets for Efficient Biomass Power Provision

Innovator (Country of Incorporation): 
Location Applied: 
Innovation Stage: 
Clean Energy Source: 
Agricultural Focus: 
Product Segment: 
Year of Award: 

Camco Clean Energy is a sustainable energy development company with offices across Africa. It is experienced in providing rural electrification through solar, biomass, small hydro, and biofuel technologies, addressing traditional charcoal production and consumption. Camco will co-implement activities with Village Industrial Power (VIP)—a firm that specializes in the development of innovative biomass fueled co-generation plants.


In rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, access to modern energy services is extremely limited. Without electricity, farming communities are slow in their adoption of modern agriculture practices—resulting in sparse irrigation, lagging food production, and few opportunities for value-added processing and refrigerated storage. Though some communities depend on fossil fuel-based technologies to meet their energy needs, perpetually escalating fuel costs—coupled with adverse environmental impacts—necessitate the exploration of more affordable and sustainable options.

Clean Energy Solution: 

Village Industrial Power (VIP) steam plants are powered through the combustion of biomass waste produced at local agricultural processing facilities. The VIP Plants generate mechanical/electrical/thermal energy for use in a diverse range of agricultural activities—processing fruit, palm, rice, and cocoa; dairy pasteurization; purifying water; and powering irrigation pumps.


The project resulted in the field testing of five beta prototype steam-driven micro combined heat and power units capable of producing 7.5 kW of electricity and 40 kW of thermal energy for agro-processing facilities and residential and commercial end-users. VIP’s mobile power plant unit is robust, reliable, and on demand, enabling farmers to process their own crops and participate directly in the value chain.

The unit powering the village mini-grid in Tanzania contributes to the community’s financial stability and entrepreneurship opportunities. The three units tested with the palm oil processors in Benin showed the potential of the clean energy solution to increase palm oil yield, and reduce or completely eliminate the consumption of diesel and wood used to power their milling machinery. They hope to use the electrical energy and the thermal energy generated by the units to power other motors, dry their crops, or produce hot water for the milling process which would reduce their wood consumption in the future. A number of issues have prevented the achievement of the original installation targets of the award. However, with support from a new funding source facilitated through Powering Agriculture and the feedback gained from the end-users during the field testing, VIP has designed the 3c generation of the VIP technology to be installed in Kenya, India, and ultimately Tanzania and Benin.

Progress Update: 

By the end of the Powering Agriculture Award in March 2016 CAMCO and VIP had installed five units in three locations. Three palm oil processing businesses in South Eastern Benin had tested the VIP unit in order to displace diesel consumption that is used in running the expeller press and the kernel and fiber separator. The VIP mini-grid in the village of Uchindile, Tanzania, electrified over 15 shops, homes, and a hospital while a rural clinic near Kigoma, Tanzania tested the VIP unit to power a submersible pump, provided hot water for the laundry and powered other equipment with the electricity produced by the unit. Training on the operation and maintenance of the units was provided at all sites.

Through a networking event organized by the Powering Agriculture, VIP met Factor(e) Ventures, an engineering and business incubator, and was helped by them to capture the lessons learned from the Powering Agriculture beta pilots and incorporate those into both the gen3c units, the business model and market entry strategies. In 2017, with funding from Shell Foundation, VIP ran 6 pilots in Kenya in the fruit and vegetable and maize drying sectors and was able to validate the value proposition, increasing farmers' incomes by up to 7 times, and the business model for the farmers based on a lease to own model. Three VIP units are currently installed in Kenya with two under contract for sales. An additional 4 units have been shipped from India for designated customers. VIP has also moved manufacturing to India which has allowed for the reduction of the cost of the unit by half with further cost reductions to be realized at scale.

Project News: 
Apr. 19, 2016

PAEGC accompanied Camco’s partner, Village Industrial Power (VIP), to observe the update of their biomass fueled co-generation units. The team visited three installations at palm oil processing facilities, interviewing palm oil farmers in Benin and meeting with stakeholders in Tanzania.

Apr. 3, 2016

The opportunity to harness biomass as an energy source for under-developed areas came to Bielenberg through 40 years of work in West Africa and a long career in power generation in the United States. The VIP’s useable energy output takes three forms: mechanical, electrical and heat.

Apr. 28, 2015

In rural areas of Benin and Tanzania, access to modern energy services is extremely limited. Village Industrial Power (VIP) Plants are mini-grid systems powered through the combustion of biomass waste produced at local agricultural processing facilities.

Smallholder Oil Palm Processing in Benin, 2014
Feb. 8, 2015

Roland Vign is an Oil Palm producer and an early adopter of the Village Industrial Power (VIP) biomass-powered mini-grid technology. Here Roland explains the benefits the VIP has provided to his community.