Product, Service & Design Innovation
German Startup Franchises Biogas Bag Business in Africa

German social enterprise B-Energy has developed portable “digester” bags that produce methane gas out of food waste or animal droppings, which can help low-income entrepreneurs in the global South make a living through a franchise model, BBC News reports.

The bags, which are heat and fire resistant, come with a tap and pipe that users can attach to a gas stove. They hold up to 1.2 cubic meters of gas — enough for about five hours of cooking.

Currently, the business still is in its early stages, with two franchisees in Ethiopia and one in Sudan. B-Energy hopes its bags can serve as a clean, cheap alternative to cooking on smoky, polluting wood fires, which is common in both of these countries and throughout the world’s poorest regions.

The company hasn’t determined how much franchisees will need to pay for their first digester and bags, but estimates a price of between $441 and $900 depending on the country, BBC News reports. Extra empty gas bags will each cost $48.

Recognizing that these are hefty price tags for many in the global South, B-Energy is in talks with finance providers to allow franchisees to pay in installments. The company is adamant about not giving anything for free, as it wants to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in its franchisees. It also has turned down offers of financial support from charities, as the company wants to prove that its business model can stand on its own.

Biogas isn’t new to Ethiopia or Sudan, but B-Energy’s inflatable bags makes the biogas much more portable and easier for people to buy and sell. However, the large size of the bags mean they may be unsuitable for use in larger cities, where space is more limited.

There are many more opportunities for investments in cleaner technologies such as biogas in the global South. Over the next decade, investments in clean technologies in emerging markets are estimated to exceed $6 trillion, of which $1.6 trillion represent business opportunities for small and medium enterprises, according to a 2014 report by infoDev/World Bank Group in collaboration with the Carbon Trust. The most promising opportunities are in wastewater treatment, onshore wind, solar panels, electric vehicles and small hydro.

Last year, Philips and the SNV Netherlands Development Organization partnered to improve access to clean cooking solutions in Africa by introducing clean and efficient household cook stoves to rural communities across the continent. Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves announced separate plans to raise $100 million to help provide clean cooking solutions to millions of people worldwide.

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