Whether taking a wildlife safari, trekking Mount Kenya, biking through Hell’s Gate National Park, or basking on Malindi beach, you can’t escape Kenya’s impressive geology. Located in the heart of the East African Great Rift Valley, Kenya’s geography is marked by the separation of tectonic plates and is rich in biodiversity, archaeological history and volcanic activity. Different from regular valleys, The Great Rift Valley was formed by tectonic activity instead of erosion and is known as the longest rift on Earth's surface, stretching from the Red Sea to Mozambique it essentially cuts the continent of Africa in half. The rugged cliffs and linear depressions are more than just a tourist destination, Earth’s crust is thinner along the ridge holding vast geothermal potential.
It is estimated that with the right investment, Kenya holds 50 gigawatts of untapped renewable energy. For context one gigawatt of energy is enough to power a medium sized city, or remove ~350 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. Direct Air Capture + Storage (DAC+S) is an energy intensive process, currently it takes around 2-3 megawatt hours of energy to remove just one ton of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Kenyan startup, Octavia Carbon, is utilizing the Great Rift Valley’s unique geography to build the second largest Direct Air Capture facility in the world and suck carbon out of the atmosphere with zero subsequent emissions. The volcanic rock of the region is also porous, making it ideal for injection and long term storage of the captured CO2. Leveraging Kenya’s abundant and cheap renewable resources, Octavia is looking to sell removed and stored carbon at $100/ton in the next 5 years. As reported on by the recent Economist article, “Why Kenya Could Take the Lead in Carbon Removal”, Octavia is a fast growing fierce competitor to its northern hemisphere counterpart, Climeworks.
Martin Freimüller, founder of Octavia Carbon, is careful to proceed in a way that protects local indigenous communities, employs local talent, and improves energy accessibility for all Kenyans. Kenyan environmentalist, James Irungu Mwangi explains Kenya’s complicated energy poverty feedback loop in his Ted Talk: Africa’s Great Carbon Valley. Kenya has an immense amount of available renewable energy and currently 90% of Kenya’s electricity grid is powered by renewables, but still one quarter of the population does not have access to electricity. In the US, only 20% of our electricity grid is powered by renewables, but 100% of Americans have access to electricity. Because consumers have to pay for capacity that isn’t being used, electricity in Kenya is very expensive. But, direct air capture and the emerging Kenyan climate tech industry would generate strong industrial demand and lower energy prices for citizens, while also scrubbing our skies of harmful legacy carbon emissions.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2022 tourism accounted for 7.6% of the country’s total GDP. In the coming years we’re hoping to see Kenya put on the map not just for its stunning beaches and immersive safari’s, but for its leading contribution to reversing climate change.
TedX: The Great Carbon Valley