Kenya’s Incredible Geography Has the Power to Help Our Climate

2 November 2023

People from all around the world visit Kenya to experience the wildlife, the coasts, and the dynamic culture. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism accounted for 7.6% of the country’s total GDP in 2022. Today, a new economy is brewing in Kenya, based on its capacity to scale carbon dioxide removal faster and in a more cost effective way than any other country in the world. Much the like draw for tourism, the secret lies in the country’s landscapes.   

Whether taking a wildlife safari, trekking Mount Kenya, biking through Hell’s Gate National Park, or basking on Malindi beach, travelers are surrounded by 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. 

Unlike many valleys formed by erosion, the Great Rift Valley was formed by tectonic activity and is known as the longest rift on Earth's surface. Stretching from the Red Sea to Mozambique, it essentially splits the African continent in half. The resulting features of rugged cliffs and linear depressions are more than just a tourist destination: Earth’s crust is thinner along the ridge, which holds 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, seeks to change that.

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 affordable renewable resources, Octavia is looking to sell removed and stored carbon at $100 per ton in the next five years. As reported on by the recent Economist article, “Why Kenya Could Take the Lead in Carbon Removal,” Octavia is a rapidly-growing fierce competitor to its northern hemisphere counterpart, Climeworks.  

© Octavia Carbon

Martin Freimüller, founder of Octavia Carbon, has been careful to proceed in a way that protects 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 one quarter of the population still does not have access to electricity. Because consumers have to pay for capacity that isn’t being used, electricity in Kenya is very expensive.

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. In the coming years, we’re hoping to see Kenya recognized not just for its stunning beaches and immersive safaris, but for its leading contribution to reversing climate change.   

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© Octavia Carbon