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Benefits of Backpack Biogas

  • by James Jeffrey (addis ababa, ethiopia)
  • Thursday, March 31, 2016
  • Inter Press Service

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Mar 31 (IPS) – Billions of dollars of aid has been pumped into Africa. Yet effective change too often remains an elusive outcome, leading to a vicious cycle: more needs, more aid but still little change. How to resolve this seemingly intractable dilemma?

Biogas could be one part of the solution. (B)energy is a social business venture offering a clean energy solution that not only solves an energy crisis but a social problem too.

Its (B)pack—a nearly 1.5 metre wide, pillow-shaped inflatable blue bag—is filled with biogas from a special biogas digester, a sealed compost bag. Afterwards, the biogas-filled (B)pack can be hoisted onto a back for carrying to a home where it is hooked up to a biogas cooking stove.

German founder Katrin Puetz, 34, built the company’s business model on the idea of empowering local franchisees to sell mobile biogas technology on themselves. This turns them into biogas producers, so-called (B)entrepreneurs, in the words of Puetz, as each gains an income while promoting clean, affordable and sustainable energy.

One such (B)entrepreneur is 32-year-old Zenebech Alemayehu, a single mother with a 9-year-old son, based in a southern suburb of Addis Ababa.

“I sacrificed a lot for this,” says Zenebech inside a large ramshackle shed as a struck match is held to the end of a metal pipe and a faint blue flame springs into life. “When I see it working I am so happy and more motivated.” She puts her fingertips to her lips then toward the flame, a symbolic kiss for her new biogas-inspired business.

The pipe leads outside the shed connecting with a 5 metre long plastic tank—the digester—that takes anything from waste food to goat droppings or those of a larger human form; Zenebech keeps hers supplied from a giant pile of cow dung inside the shed.

Puetz began the project that led to her business while working for Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, Germany, where she realised its potential in Africa as a clean, cheap alternative to cooking on smoky, polluting fires.

After being contacted by Addis Ababa University and invited to move to Ethiopia to develop the technology, she launched (B)energy in April 2014. She remains determined her enterprise remains self-sufficient, despite her technology being a prime candidate for tempting funding—she has already turned down grants from global charities.

“My aim is not to just provide biogas but to show it can be provided without aid,” Puetz says. “This is not just about money; it is about pride—why do we always have to have aid and subsidies for something that can work on its own?”

Puetz’s business model uses social franchising to encourage growth, and is set up in a way easily replicated around the world, with little investment required by local people using locally available raw materials. “It is environmentally friendly, creates entrepreneurs and strengthens communities without charity,” Khartoum-based Waleed Babiker says of why he decided to sign on as the franchisee for (B)energy Sudan. “If you give energy to rural areas they can do a lot with it and develop themselves.”

Babiker originally achieved business success through a chain of eight restaurants in Sudan, and wants to give back to society, especially outside Khartoum where rural households struggle to obtain affordable cooking gas. Cooking with biogas can also mitigate problems that go with more traditional methods, Babiker says. In the western Sudan region of Darfur, for example, collecting firewood exposes women to frequent rape, he says.

Also, smoke inhalation globally from cooking and heating with solid fuels kills about 2 million people every year—primarily women and children—according to the World Health Organisation. The history of biogas in Ethiopia illustrates some of the problems with outside intervention, no matter how well intentioned.

“Biogas was introduced by NGOs as far back as 50 years ago,” says Araya Asfaw, director of Addis Ababa University-based Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (HOAREC), and which collaborated with Puetz to test (B)energy’s technology. But, Araya explains, too often NGOs built digesters without adequate promotion: “So either people did not know about biogas or were not interested—it was donor driven rather than demand-driven.”

Also, he notes, NGO programs installing digesters in every household failed because people could not manage the maintenance and effort required. (B)energy, on the other hand, opts for dissemination of its technology through multiple (B)packs supplied by a single digester, which is also more practical and cost effective.

While (B)energy is flexible regarding payments, willing to initially loan equipment to kick-start businesses, the (B)pack is no freebie. “When you give something for free people do not value it; it may end up under the bed,” says Eyobel Gebresenbet, a HOAREC project officer advising those such as Zenebech. “But make them pay and they then want the training, and use it properly.”

At the start of 2014, a pilot project in the town of Arsi Negele, 275 km south of Addis Ababa, demonstrated the need and popularity of biogas in backpacks. By the project’s completion, 26 households were regularly buying (B)packs.

“Now we have established local manufacturing of all the mobile biogas equipment here in Ethiopia,” says 35-year-old Wubshet Yilak, the franchisee for (B)energy Ethiopia. “This is technology designed in Germany, made in Ethiopia.”

One of the main challenges, Wubshet acknowledges, will be convincing local Ethiopians to pay about 12,000 Ethiopian birr (US$600 dollars) for equipment—two (B)packs, one digester, one biogas cooker—although the hope is to make such costs more feasible by using micro-financing. “My family were farmers with 15 cows and we cooked using wood and cow dung,” Wubshet says. “I know the problems of this type of cooking, I think of my neighbours—that is why I want change, so we can have clean energy.”

(B)energy Ethiopia is leading the way in demonstrating the know-how and technology of how to bring to Africa mobile biogas solutions and the business model of selling biogas, Puetz says. Recently the technology was tested by the Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise and was approved by the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy. A next step is to get the (B)flame—(B)energy’s variety of 3 differently sized biogas stoves—tested by local authorities.

“Logically no one who is struggling to survive is interested in saving the environment,” Puetz says. “People will embrace technology if it is cheaper or makes money for them.”

(End)

© Inter Press Service (2016) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Jobs at risk as Tata Steel seeks British exit

IOL pic TATA-BRITAIN-STEEL_0330_112

Port Talbot, Wales – Britain battled to save its steel industry on Wednesday after India’s Tata Steel put its British operations up for sale, leaving thousands of jobs at risk as a result of cheap Chinese imports.

The move comes less than three months before Britons vote on the country’s membership of the European Union in a referendum dominated by concerns about the economy.

Read: Tata Steel puts UK business up for sale

The government said it was working to broker a deal with potential buyers after Tata Steel sought to end its almost decade-long venture in Britain, which employs 15 000 people but has been hit by high costs and Chinese competition.

“This is my fourth time that I’ve been placed under the threat of redundancy,” 51-year-old steelworker and union representative Mark Turner said outside Tata’s plant in Port Talbot in Wales, Britain’s biggest steel works.

“If this shuts, there is nowhere else to go.”

The move could have an impact on Britain’s closely fought June 23 vote over whether to stay in the EU.

Britain’s eurosceptic media have blamed Brussels for preventing London from taking greater steps to protect the industry and one of the campaign groups hoping to lead Britain out of the EU said it was “killing our steel”.

But supporters of EU membership said the bloc was not responsible for the industry’s plight and that the EU was a big buyer of British steel.

Britain’s business minister Sajid Javid said he was seeking investors to take over the assets.

“There are buyers out there,” he said as he cut short a trade trip to Australia to return to Britain. “It might require some kind of government support and we are more than ready to look at all ways that we can provide commercial support.”

Javid rejected a call from the opposition Labour party for the government to take a stake in the industry.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn travelled to Port Talbot to criticise the government for not responding more strongly to the surge in imports from China.

“It seems to me that too many people are not prepared to say to the Chinese government: sorry, your behaviour is not right, not fair, not proper and certainly not within the rules of the World Trade Organisation,” he said.

Steelmakers in Britain pay some of the highest energy costs and green taxes in the world, which, along with cheap Chinese steel imports, mean it could be hard to find a buyer.

Analysts said Tata would likely struggle to find a buyer for the entire UK division but could try to sell it in parts.

The sale ramps up pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron’s right-leaning Conservative government, which has sought to cultivate closer ties with China.

His fate already hangs in the balance over Britain’s future in the EU, and his government, which is campaigning for Britain to stay in the bloc, has sought to avoid controversies during the run-up to the vote.

However the Conservatives are still resented in Britain’s industrial heartlands for the demise of mining and manufacturing under former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

A vital part of the economy through the 19th and 20th centuries, many of Britain’s former steel towns have been decimated by the industry’s decline since its peak in the 1970s.

The Port Talbot plant, which dominates the small coastal town with its giant furnaces, still employs about 4 000 people, and Tata is one of the biggest private companies in Wales.

Collapsing steel

Tata Steel’s problems in Britain arose almost as soon as it bought Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus in 2007. Industry bankers said Tata overpaid for Corus at the peak of the market. Despite heavy investment, Tata Steel struggled to compete.

Cameron’s government has said it is taking measures to help the steel sector but the fundamental problem remains the collapse in the price of steel, caused by overcapacity in China.

Britain imported 826 000 tons of Chinese steel in 2015, up from 361 000 two years earlier, according to the International Steel Statistic bureau. EU diplomats say that Britain tends to vote against anti-dumping duties due to its free trade approach.

Tata Steel is the second-largest steel producer in Europe. It has a crude steel production capacity of over 18 million tons per annum in Europe, but only 14 million is operational.

Two of its three main European units, Port Talbot and Scunthorpe, are in Britain, with the rest in the Netherlands.

Its share price has halved in the past five years over which it wrote down the value of its UK assets by $2.9 billion.

News of the sale prompted talk amongst industry analysts and bankers of a wider consolidation of the European steel sector.

Tata said it was still in talks with investment firm Greybull Capital over the sale of its British long products unit at Scunthorpe. A source close to Greybull said it was unlikely to be interested in the new assets coming to market however.

REUTERS

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Brexit campaign seeks gains from Tata Steel’s UK exit

Britain battled to save its steel industry on Wednesday (30 March) after India’s Tata Steel put its British operations up for sale, leaving thousands of jobs at risk as a result of cheap Chinese imports.

The move comes less than three months before Britons vote on the country’s membership of the European Union in a referendum dominated by concerns about the economy.

The government said it was working to broker a deal with potential buyers after Tata Steel sought to end its almost decade-long venture in Britain, which employs 15,000 people but has been hit by high costs and Chinese competition.

“This is my fourth time that I’ve been placed under the threat of redundancy,” 51-year-old steelworker and union representative Mark Turner said outside Tata’s plant in Port Talbot in Wales, Britain’s biggest steel works.

“If this shuts, there is nowhere else to go.”

The move could have an impact on Britain’s closely fought June 23 vote over whether to stay in the EU.

Britain’s eurosceptic media have blamed Brussels for preventing London from taking greater steps to protect the industry and one of the campaign groups hoping to lead Britain out of the EU said it was “killing our steel”.

But supporters of EU membership said the bloc was not responsible for the industry’s plight and that the EU was a big buyer of British steel.

Britain’s business minister Sajid Javid said he was seeking investors to take over the assets.

“There are buyers out there,” he said as he cut short a trade trip to Australia to return to Britain. “It might require some kind of government support and we are more than ready to look at all ways that we can provide commercial support.”

Javid rejected a call from the opposition Labour party for the government to take a stake in the industry.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn travelled to Port Talbot to criticise the government for not responding more strongly to the surge in imports from China.

“It seems to me that too many people are not prepared to say to the Chinese government: sorry, your behaviour is not right, not fair, not proper and certainly not within the rules of the World Trade Organisation,” he said.

Steelmakers in Britain pay some of the highest energy costs and green taxes in the world, which, along with cheap Chinese steel imports, mean it could be hard to find a buyer.

Analysts said Tata would likely struggle to find a buyer for the entire UK division but could try to sell it in parts.

The sale ramps up pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron’s right-leaning Conservative government, which has sought to cultivate closer ties with China.

His fate already hangs in the balance over Britain’s future in the EU, and his government, which is campaigning for Britain to stay in the bloc, has sought to avoid controversies during the run-up to the vote.

However the Conservatives are still resented in Britain’s industrial heartlands for the demise of mining and manufacturing under former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

A vital part of the economy through the 19th and 20th centuries, many of Britain’s former steel towns have been decimated by the industry’s decline since its peak in the 1970s.

The Port Talbot plant, which dominates the small coastal town with its giant furnaces, still employs about 4,000 people, and Tata is one of the biggest private companies in Wales.

Collapsing steel

Tata Steel’s problems in Britain arose almost as soon as it bought Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus in 2007. Industry bankers said Tata overpaid for Corus at the peak of the market. Despite heavy investment, Tata Steel struggled to compete.

Cameron’s government has said it is taking measures to help the steel sector but the fundamental problem remains the collapse in the price of steel, caused by overcapacity in China.

Britain imported 826,000 tonnes of Chinese steel in 2015, up from 361,000 two years earlier, according to the International Steel Statistic bureau. EU diplomats say that Britain tends to vote against anti-dumping duties due to its free trade approach.

Tata Steel is the second-largest steel producer in Europe. It has a crude steel production capacity of over 18 million tonnes per annum in Europe, but only 14 million is operational.

Two of its three main European units, Port Talbot and Scunthorpe, are in Britain, with the rest in the Netherlands.

Its share price has halved in the past five years over which it wrote down the value of its UK assets by $2.9 billion.

News of the sale prompted talk amongst industry analysts and bankers of a wider consolidation of the European steel sector.

Tata said it was still in talks with investment firm Greybull Capital over the sale of its British long products unit at Scunthorpe. A source close to Greybull said it was unlikely to be interested in the new assets coming to market however.

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