The versatility of poop – SustainEarth invests in simplicity to produce bioenergy
In a country that often escapes the rules of logic, contradictions are normality. While it’s better to sometimes let the natural course of events solve chaotic situations, other times a proactive response is necessary.
Take the fact that India is the third largest producer of electricity in the world, but 300 million Indians have no access to energy. Poor pipeline connectivity, insufficient production of energy despite availability of resources, and inefficient revenue systems are only few of the several reasons for the inefficiency of the Indian energy sector.
That’s the problem SustainEarth, a startup that works on converting biogas into cooking fuel, set out to solve.
Local alternatives to the national distribution of energies are available, but often dangerous and uneconomical. At an all-India level, energy is required mainly for domestic use, where cooking dominates. 86% of the Indian rural population cooks on biomasses, which take long time for collection and cause respiratory problems, sometimes inducing death.
This video will give you further details on the issue
Sustain Earth Founders Koushik, Piyush and Shankar met during their PG at TERI University in New Delhi. They have three different engineering backgrounds and a common passion for renewable energies.
“In 2012, during a weekend, we went for rural treks organised by an NGO near Delhi where we witnessed the pathetic situation of power and energy access in villages of Haryana which are just few miles away from the national capital,” says Koushik. With what remained of their scholarships, the trio started REED initiative (Renewable Energy for Economic Development), which after few months became SustainEarth.
The premise was simple. About 50% of rural households own cattle, the largest livestock population in the world. But only about 1% of cattle keepers produces energy out of biogas. Koushik explains: “It takes around 20 kg of waste to generate 1 cubic meter of biogas (equivalent to 0.4 kg of LPG), which normally two or three heads of cattle generate daily. With this amount of biogas, one or two families can cook three meals a day.”
As much as biogas is a cheap, easily available renewable solution, it is nothing new. What is innovative about SustainEarth is Gau Gas, a cheap, sustainable and clean product consisting of a fabric bag connected directly to the household stove through pipes. Different from other biogas plants, Gau Gas requires very little material and labour force/time to be implemented, and it is easy to use due to the simplicity of its mechanism.
After six months into their venture, SustainEarth was incubated by Villgro and is now working to commercialise Gau Gas. “We’ll be selling them to organisations implementing biogas programmes in collaboration with us being technology partner. Since the cost of the Gau Gas is lower, it is profitable for the stakeholders and farmers” says Koushik.
The team combine energy production with business models, aiming at providing the ‘step two’ for economic escalation. “A lead organisation like an NGO or MFI takes up the biogas program and reaches out to dairy farmers in their areas of operation. In the chain, the farmer, the organisation and SustainEarth, all three should be benefitted” says Koushik.
Most new technologies implemented in developing and under-developed contexts face the risk of falling into disuse. Unexpected complications always emerge when launching new products, but the team is aware of this. “Initially we surveyed ten different states aiming at providing one solution for all. The data we collected, though, varied massively in different geographical areas and we realised we had to focus on specific conditions.” They’re starting in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with a commitment to improve their technology in details and prepare against inconveniences.
Understanding the needs of dairy farmers is by large the most important issue. The problem is not only the geographical diversity of their environment. “If you go directly to farmers, they won’t trust you” says Koushik, “In Andhra Pradesh, we’re working with the Department of Agriculture, Animal Welfare Board, couple of Gau Shalas (Cow shelters) and a few progressive farmers. We’re also in talks with some NGOs in Andhra, Karnataka & Uttar Pradesh.” Intermediaries are necessary to gain credibility with farmers and to draft a map of their conditions. However, building a direct relations with the end users is vital for developing their product effectively. Their success will rely considerably on this.
Simple resources do not necessarily translate into easy solutions. Delivering simplicity is hard. In the long run, however, it brings the best results. Learn more about Sustain Earth and check their progress on their blog!