top of page

Transforming Waste into Clean Energy for Every African Household

Prince Essel - committed to improving lives in Africa through sustainable innovation

From school science projects that ignited an enduring legacy to securing a place on the prestigious Siemens supported Smart Energy Solutions for Africa (SESA) Incubator Programme, Prince Essel’s journey is fuelled by a mixture of childhood curiosity, fierce determination, and an unwavering commitment to improving lives through sustainable innovation.


As the co-founder of Econexus Venture Limited, he is helping to reshape how we think about waste and energy by providing communities with affordable, safe, and clean-burning bioethanol fuel and cooking stoves that act as antidote to harmful fuels.


Prince is the tenth founder in our series on Africa’s Hidden Gems – a series that amplifies African entrepreneurs who are tackling the continent’s Sustainability challenge with innovative solutions.


From Childhood Curiosity to Clean Energy Innovator


Born in the southern part of Ghana, Prince Essel's childhood was marked by curiosity and a natural inclination towards creativity.


Throughout our conversation, Prince nostalgically recounted stories of his youthful enthusiasm. He told me how, at the age of 12, “I woke up to the news that Ghana had discovered oil. And I was like, wow, Ghana? Oil? So, I went into our backyard, and I started digging”.


Much to his dismay, the quest for oil in his backyard did not yield the results he hoped for. However, as he dug deeper and deeper, he did discover something else that fascinated him. 


A white substance emerged which Prince soon realised was lime, remnants of whitewash paint that had been left by builders and concealed over the years by layers of clay and debris.


Prince's fascination with this discovery turned into an audacious idea: to turn the white substance into a new form of energy. Enlisting the help of his best friend, the duo delved into experimentation, using his older brother's cologne to ignite reactions.


Looking back, Prince light-heartedly recalls his ambition to create a new form of energy as a “crazy fantasy” but nevertheless a moment that was “about capturing the world” for a young boy.


His curiosity continued into Senior High School at Mfantsipim. During his first year in school, he stumbled upon an article discussing Brazil's use of sugarcane to make bioethanol fuel for cars. This was a moment that planted the seed for his future endeavours.


The announcement of the Anzisha Prize, a competition organised by the African Leadership Academy, provided a platform for Prince to pursue his ideas.


With the support of a friend's father who worked at the University of Cape Coast, Prince and his team delved into exploring bioethanol production, leveraging local resources and expertise.


However, tragedy struck when the friend's father fell victim to a gas explosion. This event shifted Prince's focus towards finding clean cooking solutions and fuelled his determination to make a difference and save lives through his work in renewable energy.


In 2013, Prince entered the University of Mines and Technology in Tarkwa with a clear goal in mind: to pursue renewable energy. On his first day, Prince told me how he “stepped foot on campus, went to the Head of Department, and told him that I'm not really interested in electrical engineering. I want to do renewable.” His tenacity even earned him the nickname “Green Energy” among his peers.


In his final year of university, Econexus took root. It was born out of a Togolese competition and training programme called Africa Energy Generation Prize that combined energy and entrepreneurship.


Despite facing scepticism from friends and tutors, Prince deferred his last semester to participate in the competition and his gamble paid off. Prince emerged from the competition as a laureate with seed capital to kickstart Econexus.


Traditional Cooking Fuels: Health Hazards and Economic Challenges


In the quiet corners of rural villages and bustling urban neighbourhoods alike, the pollution and smoke from traditional cooking methods hangs heavy in the air.


The negative health effects of the widespread use of biomass, kerosene, and coal as cooking fuels is well documented, particularly among women and children who spend hours in close proximity to cooking fires.


The toll is staggering. According to the International Energy Agency, household air pollution, predominantly from cooking smoke, is linked to around 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide each year.


Yet, health hazards are not the only concern with traditional cooking fuels. As Prince tells me, encounters with communities like Nzulezu reveal a stark reality. Young children, instead of attending school and pursuing their education, spend hours every day searching for firewood for their families.


Liquified petroleum gas (LPG) has often been touted as a safer alternative, but many households avoid using gas due to fears of explosion. This fear is not unfounded, as gas-related accidents pose a genuine hazard, especially in areas where safety regulations may be lax or poorly enforced. As Prince explains, “currently about 70% of our customer base are people who fear using LPG”.


Added to this, the cost-of-living crisis has seen the price of cooking gas soar. In Nigeria for example, cooking gas has become unaffordable for an increasing number of households with the price rising from N10,000 to N12,500 for 12.5kg at the end of last year.


But amidst these challenges, a solution emerges in the form of Econexus.


Fuelling Change: Econexus’ Sustainable Approach


Since its inception in 2019, Econexus has been at the forefront of social entrepreneurship and circular economy initiatives. By converting agricultural waste from pineapples, cashews, apples and sugarcane molasses into cooking fuels, the start-up is addressing critical environmental and societal challenges.


Prince explains how they “collect pineapple waste from markets and pineapple juice processors to produce high concentration alcohol that can be used for cooking”.


Their customer base spans households in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, catering to diverse needs and preferences. The clean cooking fuels not only offer a sustainable alternative to traditional fuels but also come with added benefits such as insect repellent properties, enhancing safety and comfort during cooking.


Moreover, Econexus is leveraging technology to enhance accessibility and user experience. With the upcoming launch of their app, customers will have easy access to retail outlets, delivery services, and educational resources on clean cooking. The app also fosters community engagement, allowing users to exchange excess fuel.


Recognising the importance of grassroots engagement, Econexus is committed to building a community around their products. They envision a future where clean cooking solutions are not just commodities but integral parts of sustainable lifestyles.


Additionally, with support from the Siemens Foundation, Econexus is scaling up its efforts to deploy industrial-scale ethanol stoves in institutions like schools, hospitals, and hotels, further expanding their impact.


Currently serving over 533 households and with plans to expand in the near-future into Togo and Rwanda, Econexus continues to grow and innovate, driving positive change in both local communities and the broader landscape.


Overcoming Challenges and Navigating Entrepreneurship


In the early days of Econexus, the path forward was not always clear. Like many start-ups, funding was an obstacle. However, Prince found a lifeline through programs like the Africa Energy Generation Prize and  the Ghana Climate Innovation Centre Incubator Programme.


But perhaps the greatest challenge lay in assembling the right team. Prince encountered individuals with varying degrees of commitment and expertise. Some were driven by genuine passion, while others sought recognition and limelight. Navigating these dynamics required finesse, as Prince worked to strike a balance between fostering enthusiasm and ensuring competence within his team.


Yet, through all the ups and downs, Prince stayed true to his vision. He knew entrepreneurship wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. There were bumps, setbacks, and even a few wrong turns along the way. But failure? That was just part of the journey, not the end of the road. As he adds, “What is entrepreneurship without failure? It's okay to not have everything figured out in the beginning”.


Prince goes on to say that “one thing I truly believe is that if we stay true to our values [and our vision], success will eventually come knocking at the door.”


As Econexus grew, Prince realised the importance of inclusivity and respect within the team. He explains that “once you have people coming with you, you have to understand that they've left something behind to follow you. You don't treat them as a subordinate, [but instead] bring them on as partners and co-create the whole enterprise”.


Through persistence, resilience, and a commitment to collaboration, Econexus overcame its hurdles. Today, the company stands as a beacon of innovation and sustainability, driven by the belief that transformative change is possible when individuals unite behind a shared purpose.


What’s next and bigger picture


Econexus is helping to write the next chapter in Africa's clean energy revolution by bringing us one step closer to a continent where everyone has access to safe, affordable, and clean cooking solutions.


As Econexus propels forward, their vision is clear: to have their product in every African household.


If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to our Africa's Hidden Gems Newsletter and receive monthly updates on inspiring stories from African visionaries. They are men and women who are making sustainable impacts today and doing their bit to pave the way for a better future for the continent and beyond.


bottom of page