Anders Tuxen MPA 2004 didn’t come to the Kennedy School from Denmark simply to gain expertise in a single area. A generalist by nature — with a background in architecture, philosophy, politics, and government — Tuxen sought expertise in broad areas of economics and policy, and he regarded the Kennedy School as the best place for pursuing that. He has certainly embraced the school’s philosophy of, as he puts it, “trying to make a difference, trying to do things that matter beyond yourself.” And he’s now positioned himself to fulfill that goal in a big way.
In 2007, the Danish biotechnology giant Novozymes offered Tuxen the job of energy strategist, where he would focus on biofuels — an area in which the firm is a well-known technology provider. He leaped at the chance, sensing that old-fashioned business incentives could spur progress simultaneously in international development, the environment, and efforts to mitigate climate change.
Two years later, that idea moved a step closer to reality when Tuxen helped establish and later became a board member of CleanStar Mozambique — a project with the potential to stem deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and improve public health, while also allowing private industry to make a profit. “This is not an aid project,” he says. “It is a commercial venture, and the fact that it is commercial may provide the best opportunity we have for achieving important environmental goals.”
CleanStar Mozambique is trying to make agriculture and energy use more sustainable in Africa, Tuxen explains, with a big part of that effort targeting charcoal, a dirty cooking fuel used by 80 percent of the 400 million people living in African cities. Charcoal is made by cutting down trees, burning them, burying the smoldering timber in the ground, and then chopping up the charred remains. A third of the forested land in Africa has been lost, largely owing to the demand for charcoal. The fuel’s widespread use for cooking has contributed to a rise in respiratory disease and other health concerns.
Despite these problems, most urban consumers in Africa have no ready alternative to charcoal. Tuxen and his colleagues realized there might be a better way — one that not only made business sense but also could benefit the African people. Instead of destroying forests and depleting the soil through slash-and-burn agriculture, thousands of smallholders are being helped by CleanStar Mozambique to grow cassava and other crops selected to regenerate the soil; to make ethanol, a much cleaner-burning fuel than charcoal; and to improve food production in both quantity and quality.
A new factory near Beira, Mozambique, should soon be turning out 300,000 gallons of ethanol a year. At the other end of the chain, CleanStar is working with manufacturers to bring inexpensive ethanol stoves to the marketplace — dozens of which are currently being tested by families in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital and largest city.
But this is only a demonstration project. Ultimately the goal is to expand the CleanStar concept beyond Mozambique, replacing charcoal throughout much of the continent. “Only about 8 percent of the suitable land in Africa is under cultivation, and the land under cultivation often yields only a fifth as much crops as it could,” Tuxen says. “CleanStar Mozambique creates a market that gives smallholders an incentive to grow more crops — and we help them do that in a sustainable and restorative way. Couple that with deep markets for clean and affordable energy and you have an attractive and scalable business opportunity. So the potential here is really vast, which is why a company like Novozymes is interested.”