GREEN KEEPER AFRICA, a flower against pollution
Removing oil-based industrial pollution using water hyacinth, an invasive plant which proliferates in coastal communities.
Green Keeper Africa has implemented an innovative business model built around a proprietary invention called GK-SORB. Green Keeper Africa harvests the invasive water hyacinth from coastal communities and transforms the plant fibers into GK-SORB, which is 100% organic and capable of absorbing up to 17 times its weight in oil. The business model generates revenue from industrial clients who pay Green Keeper Africa for a pollution management service. To enable this service, Green Keeper Africa delivers GK-SORB kits to industrial clients who use them to clean oil spills; the final step is to collect used GK-SORB kits and to use them as fuel for cement kilns. Green Keeper Africa's solutions provide a simple, fast and efficient way to contain oil spills and clean up the contaminated site.
Why is our business important? Our solution simultaneously addresses two main problems: managing invasive water plants and removing oil-based, industrial waste. Green Keeper Africa works in coastal communities where there is a complex interaction between the ocean, lakes and river systems. These regions have fragile ecosystems, including mangroves and fisheries, that are harmed by the presence of water hyacinth and industrial pollution.
THE FIRST PROBLEM we address is the water hyacinth, an invasive plant imported from South America. The plant multiplies beyond control and brings costly hazards for the environment and local populations. It blocks large portions of lakes and rivers with a thick bed of vegetation, reducing the quality of life for coastal communities, slowing boat transportation, impeding economic activity (fishing, trade and tourism), reducing biodiversity, and increasing the risk of flooding. Mats of water hyacinth also create an ideal habitat for malaria-transmitting mosquitoes.
THE SECOND PROBLEM is industrial pollution. Recurring oil spills affect many countries every day, with disastrous consequences for soils, groundwater, lakes, seas and oceans. In the countries where Green Keeper Africa works, such as in western and northern Africa, many of the ports, industrial hubs and large cities are concentrated on the coast. Thus, coastal communities bear a disproportionate burden from pollution.
Embedded in Green Keeper Africa's DNA is the desire to be a driving force for economic development and a source of social and environmental impact.
-Green Keeper Africa pays local community members to harvest the plant. Today we have more than 700 harvesters, many of whom are women from low-income households for whom this activity constitutes important additional income.
-Green Keeper Africa removes the invasive water hyacinth from lakes, helps to restore aquatic ecosystems and reduces the risk for flooding and improve water quality. To scale up our activities, we are installing a regional Observation System for Invasive Species to collect data on plant behavior, impact and interaction with the communities.
-Green Keeper Africa offers eco-responsible products that effectively combat pollution problems while contributing to a circular economy in which industrial waste is used as fuel.
With water hyacinth infestation being a challenge in over 50 countries, Green Keeper Africa is poised to expand our services in new countries.
The dimensions of the Challenge our solution addresses:
Our solution's stage of development:
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Cotonou, Benin
What makes our solution innovative:
We use water hyacinth - an environmental hazard impacting water bodies and coastal communities - to solve another environmental problem: liquid contaminants from industries.
Our solution is built on GK-SORB (available on the market): a liquid contaminant absorbent derived from the water hyacinth.
Our business model helps alleviate the harm of the water hyacinth by utilizing it to provide a convenient method to remove oil-based pollution.
Green Keeper Africa is also installing, with the Space Enabled Research Group from MIT, an observation system for invasive species which will collect data using satellite earth observation, local sensors and environmental models.
How technology is integral to our solution:
We design and build our own equipment to transform the raw material (water hyacinth) into a finished product (an organic fiber utilized to absorb liquid contaminants). So we use:
- Mechanical engineering
- 3-D printing
- Biochemical analysis of pollutants
- Environmental engineering
- Logistics management
- Manufacturing and product optimization
Our Observation System for invasive species uses:
- Satellite earth observation to monitor plants;
- Locally operated sensors to measure salinity, temperature, water quality;
- Computer-based models to predict plant blooms and societal impact.
Our solution goals over the next 12 months:
Green Keeper Africa has been working since the beginning of 2018 to expand its services in other African countries, especially Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, Morocco, and Nigeria, which is a large potential market. We are setting up an R&D unit focused on ecotechnologies and bio-based solutions. This laboratory will be a platform welcoming researchers from around the world and from Benin. The first research topic is the installation of the Observation System For Invasive Species in collaboration with the Space Enabled Research Group from MIT. Future research will design a bio-based treatment for industrial effluents to reduce water contamination.
Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our solution to affect the lives of more people:
Green Keeper Africa aims to impact more people by replicating our solutions in others countries where water hyacinth invasion is an issue. We are particularly interested in replicating the benefits that our solution provides both for the coastal communities and the environment:
- We are creating revenue sources and a sense of self-determination among residents in communities where water hyacinth is active. We also contribute to Sustainable Development Goal # 15 (Life on land);
- Through our work with MIT, we will transfer our findings to government agencies who can also benefit from knowledge to help control invasive plants.
Our promotional video:
The key characteristics of the populations who will benefit from our solution in the next 12 months:
The regions where we will be operating in the next 12 months:
How we will reach and retain our customers or beneficiaries:
We communicate to stakeholders through various channels including: social media, distributors, media outlets, word-of-mouth. Our targeted customers are the following companies:
- Upstream oil companies facing spills at drilling, transportation and storage sites;
- Oil distribution companies facing spills on storage, transportation and distribution sites (gas stations, retailers, distribution companies);
- Manufacturing industries
- Transportation, construction and material companies;
- Car fleets and car maintenance companies.
As for beneficiaries, we are currently working with over 700 harvesters who are residents in the regions where water hyacinth proliferates. We plan on expanding our network of harvesters as activities grow.
How many people we are currently serving with our solution:
To date, our portfolio of clients includes at least 30 major players in transportation, manufacturing, oil distribution, and construction sectors. Before Green Keeper Africa, the clients were using sand to absorb the oil and pollutants. This sand usage had several logistical, cost and environmental consequences: it was time consuming, heavy and inefficient. The main consequences were environmental because recycling the sand is a complex and costly system; the contaminated sand was discharge at municipal landfills with dramatic hidden consequences on the underground water, wildlife and health of the coastline communities living next to the city.
How many people we will be serving with our solution in the 12 months and the next 3 years:
In the next 12 month we plan to expand to Gabon, Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria. On the Nigerian market alone, there are 180 registered oil companies and 4000 manufacturers only in Lagos State. Beside those large clients we began to target the smaller clients which are the thousands of by-the-road informal garage which deposit residual, used engine oil in the surrounding environment due to poor management of their oil waste.
This growing market will scale-up the harvesting activities in Benin, thus the beneficiaries is expected to grow from 700 now to more than 2000 in 3 years time.
How our solution team is organized:
How many people work on our solution team:
How many years we have been working on our solution:
The skills our solution team has that will enable us to attract the different resources needed to succeed and make an impact:
At Green Keeper Africa we employ people who cross multiple fields and are prepared to learn new skills. Our team is made up of individuals from diverse professional backgrounds. From a medical doctor to an engineer to an environmental specialist and a social worker. The team relies on:
- Local knowledge
- An agile approach
- Strong leadership and management skills
- Outside-the-box thinking
Our revenue model:
GKA generates revenue by selling innovative products and services, with direct economic, social and environmental benefits to the local communities who are the first to face the negative effects of water hyacinth invasion. We built our business model (with an upstream and a downstream component). Upstream, we remove the plants from the environment then transform them into a product (GK-SORB) that is used downstream to control industrial pollution from liquid contaminants : transportation accident,machine malfunctioning or maintenance, industrial waste, etc. Our product provides a solution to an existing need and is eco-friendly, easy to use and recyclable in cement kilns.
Why we are applying to Solve:
We strongly believe in the philosophy proposed by Solve that innovation can come from anywhere on earth. We see high value in engaging with the community of Solvers who face similar challenges to us. We can mentor early stage innovators by sharing lessons we have learned. We appreciate the insights we can learn from the Solve mentors who see trends and tools we can leverage to have greater impact. We already find it helpful to collaborate with a research partner from MIT. Participating in the Solve community will increase our ability to learn from academia as we share our knowledge.
The key barriers for our solution:
The key barriers to success Green Keeper Africa are:
- Low market access: Benin is a 10 million inhabitant countries, transportation is expensive toward neighboring countries and administrative harassment is a reality;
- Technology gaps;
- Limited access to funding and mentors;
- Lack of control on intentional waster release.
To face those barriers:
- We implement incremental iterative strategy (make-test-evaluate-reframe) in all departments;
- We continuously work on low-cost improvements of the product (raw material quality, machine improvement and packaging);
- Enlarge our network by communicating on several platforms;
- We repeatedly propose solutions to governmental agencies to implement a better management of liquid contaminants.
The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Solvers: