Farm to Flame Turns Biowaste Into Clean Energy
with Innovative Generator System
by Amanda Waltz
April 14, 2021
A Pittsburgh startup is creating a new way to turn waste into electricity, and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, with a new generator system.
Farm to Flame Energy, a company currently going through the professional incubator program at Ascender, has set out to develop power generators that are smokeless, odorless, and easy to use. The system would transform construction, food processing, and agricultural waste, otherwise known as biomass, into low-cost electricity that also creates far less carbon emissions compared to conventional diesel generators.
Kwaku Jyamfi, president and CEO of Farm to Flame Energy, became involved with the company after founder Will McKnight reached out to him. At the time, McKnight, who was a classmate of Jyamfi's at Syracuse University, was looking for a way to build on a process patented by his grandfather and uncle.
"He wanted to commercialize it into a generator for developing nations who have a lot of this agricultural and wood waste," says Jyamfi. "And, you know, they also use diesel generators because they have a lot of blackouts. So they want to replace those diesel generators, and they're very expensive."
At the time, McKnight, a history major, recruited Jyamfi for his skills as a chemical engineering major in SU's College of Engineering and Computer Science. Jyamfi graduated from SU in 2018 and pursued graduate degrees in environmental engineering and Engineering and Technology Innovation Management at Carnegie Mellon University.
Also involved is Stefano Alva, a CMU graduate who came on as the company's chief financial officer.
The effort to advance the technology is personal for Jyamfi, a Ghanaian American whose relatives who still live in Ghana have told him of their troubles with constant blackouts, according to a profile published by SU's The Newhouse. It goes on to say that in 2016 alone, the West African country experienced a total of 159 days without power.
Jyamfi believes the Farm to Flame generators could help solve the energy issues faced by people in many countries around the world, all without putting additional strain on the environment, as the generators would run on briquettes that burn cleaner than conventional wood or charcoal.
Jyamfi says the generator system would also help divert waste from landfills. "About 20 percent of the waste going to landfills is construction and demolition waste, as well as paper and cardboard," claims Jyamfi, adding that those materials could easily be used to power the Farm to Flame system.
Jyamfi points out that the generators could also provide relief during disasters when mass outages would occur. He cites the recent crisis in Texas when sudden, severe winter storms resulted in millions of people across the state losing power for days or even weeks on end.
The company has made quite the impression in the few years since it started. In 2018, it first gained attention as a regional finalist for the prestigious Hult Prize, a globally recognized honor dubbed the "Nobel Prize for student startups." This past February, Farm to Flame won a $100,000 Small Business Innovation Research Phase I EPA Grant to "help commercialize its fuel processor which provides scalable, end-to-end electricity generation systems for underserved communities," says a press release.
Right now, Jyamfi says they are in the nascent stages of bringing the product to market. Farm to Flame established a partnership to deploy its generator through the Syracuse Center of Excellence, and secured a long-term generating agreement with the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Jyamfi calls the latter a big, multimillion-dollar project that involves replacing the school's current diesel generators with a "solar and biomass hybrid."
"So, they will be using these biomass generators in combination with solar to help the school save money and also save on emissions," says Jyamfi.
He says they plan on deploying systems to a few pilot customers by June. Ideally, they hope to have a generator ready to sell in major retailers like Tractor Supply Company or Lowe's.
"By the end of 2021, we want to have gathered enough data from these pilots to be able to make a reproducible system that we can have functioning at a very high level," says Jyamfi.