Biodiesel plant fuels relief efforts in Ukraine

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by Katie Morford

What do you do when you pastor a church in a town with close to 100 percent unemployment?

Wayne Zschech, the Business4transformation (B4T) representative with OM Ukraine, knew he had to address the practical needs of his church to make spiritual headway among the lost.

“[We had] a vision for community transformation through Christian enterprise and workplace discipleship,” he said.

In 2003, the first steps were taken for creating business opportunities in his regional town of Kaharlyk, Ukraine, 80 kilometres south of Kiev. They began experimenting with producing biogas and biodiesel, as well as growing mushrooms as a cash crop.

Biogas is a combustible gas resulting from the breakdown of organic materials by an anaerobic (without access to oxygen) bacteria, while biodiesel is a liquid fuel made from waste vegetable/fryer oil.

“We were swamped by hundreds of locals asking for employment,” Wayne said. “The Christians were active and they had some answers.”

Early experiments producing biogas were successful—to a point. They produced a combustible gas in the test unit, but further progress had to be put on hold until they had personnel with the expertise and technology to bring the project to a self-sustaining level. In 2012 the project was launched a second time, and they expect to produce biogas and liquid fertilizer in the near future.

The biodiesel project is also making strides. They now have two German-made reactors helping workers to produce European spec biodiesel. Every month they collect around 20 tonnes of waste restaurant oil and are continuing to expand. They recently added two more workers to the project payroll, bringing the total to nine, and plan to add more employees in the spring if the Lord allows.

“Over the last year, there have been a lot of developments,” Wayne said. Those developments include a newly-constructed biodiesel mini-factory that will soon be operational.

“By God’s favour,” Wayne said, “what started as an experiment in a bucket has now become one of Ukraine’s only operating biodiesel companies.”

At first the mushroom project proved highly successful, but the company providing compost begin supplying poor-quality materials, which proved very destructive to the enterprise and forced the project to lay off 25 workers. With some seed funding Wayne and his colleagues plan to restart the mushroom enterprise, this time creating their own compost from the biogas waste products in order to control the compost quality.

“God was teaching us many things,” Wayne said. “The mushroom project still has huge potential.”

Lack of strategic understanding of the project’s potential by the Ukrainian government and town leadership is a barrier to the project’s growth, but Wayne believes they can create a working example of an integrated biofuel and organic processing company that is sustainably transforming lives and the community.

Though the bio-energy projects have had their ups and downs, their impact is already being felt by the Ukrainian people.

When Dima first joined the project, his life was very dysfunctional—three years later much is still required to put together his broken life. But Dima has stuck with the project and his job, becoming a faithful worker and earning the trust of his superiors. His life is improving as he learns God’s way.

“Dima is excited to be a part of something that is growing,” Wayne said. “Morning Bible devotions are a great encouragement as the business owners share not only their faith, but also their vision of community transformation through Christian enterprise.”

When the mushroom venture fell through, everyone left—everyone but Yura. For months, Yura travelled to Kiev to collect used fryer oil from fast food restaurants for use in the biodiesel enterprise. Thanks to his faithfulness and several major breakthroughs, the project is now a thriving small business.

“It’s been a tough school, but God has brought him and his family from the brink of an abyss into a place of stability, generosity and a vision for the future,” Wayne said.

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