Solar and wind energy projects have been praised as potential ways to reduce global poverty. But German start-up organization B-Energy is promoting an efficient use of another form of renewable energy to improve life in the developing world.
B-Energy has supplied households in Africa with biogas balloon backpacks, digester systems and stoves to help them convert organic waste into harnessed biogas. The energy that the bags and digesters produce can serve as cooking fuel and provide people with a source of income.
Developing countries have struggled to supply stable forms of energy to many of their inhabitants. According to the World Energy Outlook, approximately 80 percent of people without electricity live in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. With no other alternative for energy, many people rely on biogas and struggle to efficiently transport and store it.
Founded by German entrepreneur Katrin Puetz, B-Energy serves as an innovative and affordable system that offers a reliable source of energy from human and animal waste and agricultural residue. B-Energy’s method revolves around its ‘B-pack’, which is an inflatable balloon backpack that holds methane gas produced from waste in a biogas plant or digester. People without their own plant can refill their B-packs at a nearby digester.
According to the BBC, each bag comes with a metal pipe, which users can attach to a gas-cooking stove. The bags hold 1.2 cubic meters of gas—enough for about five hours of cooking—and spare households from relying on wooden fires to prepare food.
Another key aspect of B-Energy’s system is that it creates entrepreneurial opportunities. As a “social business venture,” Puetz’s start-up encourages individuals with biogas digesters to sell their biogas to households. People with B-packs can also profit from supplying their leftover gas to others. B-Energy even provides aspiring entrepreneurs with a beginner’s kit—which includes a biogas digester, B-backpacks and stoves—and professional training to help them launch their biogas business.
Since its inception in 2014, B-Energy has steadily grown, establishing franchises in Sudan and Ethiopia. Puetz refused to accept grants from global charities in order to prove that her enterprise can be self-sufficient.
Moving forward, a significant obstacle for B-Energy is to determine how to lower the cost of its system. The Inter Press Service has reported that Ethiopians have to pay approximately 12,000 birr—equivalent to $600—for a biogas plant, two backpacks and a cooking stove.
Puetz hopes to make the B-Energy systems more affordable by allowing franchises and households to pay in installments. This change would expand access to his innovative energy solution and assist countless more in need.
– Sam Turken