The ninth Excellence in Engineering Forum, Investment and Businesses: Paved Routes in Africa, took place in Cairo on 21st February 2022. Seeders Capital was a platinum sponsor and ran the panel, which discussed ways of achieving sustainable greenification of the value chain in a closed-loop model. As part of this conversation, experts explored issues like procurement, asset management, and the rise of ‘for-profit’ social enterprises.
Speakers and Attendees
The forum coincided with the same-day launch of the US-Egypt Climate Working Group at Cairo’s Foreign Ministry, as the country prepares to host COP27 later in the year. Excellence in Engineering attracted many speakers with a background in government, including Senators Dalia el Saadany and Sherif el Gabaly, as well as H.E. Hany Mahmoud, the former Minister of Communications and Information Technology.
Dr. Nevine Abdel Abdelkhalek of Engineering Consultants Group SA now serves as a board member for the Egyptian Businessmen’s Association.
Academics included H.E. Amr Ezzat Salama, Egypt’s former minister of higher education and scientific research. Many heads of large companies and their subsidiaries attended the event, including Solomon Baumgartner Aviles, the CEO of Lafarge Egypt. Also present as a speaker was ZHao Qing, who serves as Global Government Chief Architect for event gold sponsor Huawei Enterprise Business Group.
The attendance of business and thought leaders of this caliber shows that there are positive signs of interest at the highest levels in building a sustainable value chain. Speakers engaged with captains of industry from across North Africa to explain in detail how they can bring value to their clients at every step.
Seeders Capital CEO Emad Hefny kicked off the fourth panel by looking at themes like recycling, savings, digitization, the collaborative economy and zoning, which is included in the European Commission’s circular economy action plan (CEAP) and is a building block of the Green Deal for sustainable growth. The action plan calls for the implementation of Clean Energy Zones and Clean Air Zones (CAZ), transforming indoor and outdoor spaces. Seeders Capital’s own CAZ systems were on display and available for demonstration nearby.
Dry spells and floods cost the agricultural sector a significant amount in lost or damaged crop and livestock production. That’s without taking current food security issues and supply chain problems into account. One obvious solution lies in increasing agricultural productivity and up-cycling waste. Every year, Egypt generates around 30 million tons of agricultural waste, with each household discarding 70 kilograms of food.
This puts the nation in the top 10 percent of organic waste producers worldwide.
Transformation of Agrifood Systems
The Near East and North Africa (NENA) is already home to nearly 420 million people. 40 percent live in rural areas, and one in five works in agriculture. As the region’s agricultural footprint continues to grow, a number of agriculture ministers have confirmed their commitment to the transformation of agrifood systems.
The official endorsement of the FAO’s four Regional Priorities is greatly encouraging to Lara van Druten, the founder and CEO of The Waste Transformers, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, who joined the panel to describe her own efforts at building small-scale circular economies around food waste.
Van Druten started The Waste Transformers with one objective: to create a flourishing business that inspires others to change the way they treat food waste. She has developed a business model that successfully balances financial, social, and environmental returns: a for-profit social enterprise.
Seeders Capital is a distributor partner of The Waste Transformers in Egypt, and is a past winner of the UAE Global Innovation Award. The Waste Transformers is one of 20 entities that Seeders Capital works with across air, waste, energy and water.
The Closed-Loop Model
The Waste Transformers enable businesses and communities to turn their food waste into value on their own site. They place modular anaerobic digesters built inside shipping containers, called Waste Transformers, next to the building that is producing the food waste. This all-in-one solution shreds the food waste daily, digesting it into bio-gas and natural fertilizer. Inside the Waste Transformers, the bio-gas is automatically cleaned, turned into electricity and residual heat, and is directed back into the building to aid in reducing the energy bills. The natural liquid fertilizer is a circular, natural replacement for polluting, oil-based artificial fertilizers being used around the world. Businesses can now have a local circular economy around their own food waste systems.
The process is carried out in 20-foot shipping containers. The modular Waste Transformers can process between 350 and 3,000 kilograms of food waste per day at the site where the waste is coming from. No food waste transportation, smelly storage, or collection is necessary. It’s the perfect example of value chain optimization, as it captures the benefits of decentralized energy and waste management, collaborative economies, and regenerative farming techniques.
Different Solutions for Different Target Customers
The Waste Transformers has installations and projects in several countries around the globe. For example, in The Netherlands, they have a test location at home accessories giant IKEA in Haarlem, and will soon be installing a Waste Transformer at the Johan Cruyff Arena football stadium, home of Ajax Amsterdam, where the fertilizer will be tested to potentially grow the grass on the football field.
They also have projects in the UAE, in Chile, Africa and in The Netherlands around sustainable cities and housing estates, food markets in Colombia, and insect farms in several African countries.
Being a small-scale, plug-and-play, off-grid solution, there are plenty of other potential applications, including for hotels, shopping malls, universities, hospitals, food producers, and agricultural manufacturers.
It’s a clean, smart, transportation-free approach to realizing zero waste and avoiding landfill or incineration. This clever system also yields natural liquid fertilizer, which, besides its application for agriculture, can also be used for gardens and golf courses. The liquid fertilizer is highly effective when used in soil with low carbon content, or in arid dry land. What’s especially convenient is the quicker turnover of organic waste.
Designing for Circularity
The Waste Transformers are much more than just a decentralized waste management system. Circularity is embedded into the company’s design and technology, with a focus on adapting to the unique circumstances of local residents, business owners, and farmers.
Entrepreneurs called on van Druten and her team to install 40 Waste Transformers around Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where they currently have an installation next to the Aberdeen Women’s Hospital. The idea here is to establish a blueprint for African megacities to run decentralized waste management whereby the food waste will be collected from around the the communities, the energy outputs will be fed back into those same communities, and the natural fertilizer can be sold to local farmers to support sustainable agriculture and resilient city greens — very much appreciated in a country where 60% of the population lives on less than US$ 1.25 a day.
If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Food waste is a subject touching all of us, and it is more damaging than we all think. But now, businesses can become active in turning food waste into value. Sustainability and agricultural officials are increasingly convinced by circularity principles and the success stories of for-profit social enterprises that have effectively implemented the philosophy. After all, the environment is an essential part of everyday life, and not a choice.
The Seeders Capital panel established that sustainability is not to be confused with greenwashing, and it is concerned with far more than a transition to clean energy. It involves a complete business model transformation, with technology at its heart. The audience was won over by the concept of Clean Air Zones, regenerative agriculture and closed-loop systems that don’t just stop humans’ negative impact on the environment but ultimately reverse it.