NAIROBI, KENYA — Catherine Mutua has always used charcoal and gas to cook for her young family.
But, the source of energy she grew up with was becoming too expensive. She found out that she can also cook with another kind of fuel, ethanol.
"Before I was using the gas and charcoal,” Mutua said. “I shifted after I was educated [about] how the fuel is cheap, safe for the kids, for the environment."
Mutua gets the ethanol from a filling station set up by the Koko Networks, a Nairobi-based startup. The company also sells ethanol stoves that cost a customer about $70.
Regina Anyango runs a food kiosk in Kangemi neighborhood in Nairobi. She says she no longer battles black fumes spewed out of her charcoal stove.
"So far it has been very economical, no fume, faster to use when you are cooking," Anyango said. “And it's easy to control."
According to health experts, fumes from charcoal and kerosene contribute to respiratory diseases. They also produce carbon emissions that are heating up Earth's atmosphere.
Ethanol, by contrast, is made from food sources like sugar or corn, and is considered carbon-neutral.
Some officials believe this kind alternative source energy can help reduce the number of trees cut down for the use of charcoal or firewood.
Michael Wakoli is the fuel supply manager for the Koko Networks. He told VOA ethanol is a more practical and convenient fuel to use.
"Typically, traditionally, what will happen because of the nature of fuel that we used to cook — kerosene, charcoal — you will be forced to cook outside because of the harmful fumes that we have,” Wakoli said. “But we are giving you an in-house solution," with a fuel supply a short distance away at low cost.
Wakoli said the filling stations are in parts of Nairobi with huge populations that are usually neglected.
"So we have typically targeted dense market — Kawangware, Kibera, Kitengela area, Embakasi, Kahawa West — where we can reach many people as possible and because knowing the need of people and being near to them."
An earlier version of this report contained customer base data that was not independently verified. VOA regrets the error.