How can developing countries increase access to energy without worsening poverty or environmental damage? It’s a question that development experts have devoted their lives to. Katrin Puetz, the inventor of mobile biogas bags, thinks she may have the answer.
‘Biogas bags can be used to store and move methane gas collected from local digesters,’ says Puetz, who used to work in ecology before turning her hand to engineering. ‘The digester is small, it can hook up under a household or a tent, while the bags are light and easy to carry.’
Designed five years ago in Germany, the digesters break down natural materials – such as dung and food waste – and turn them into methane for cooking. After several successful pilot projects in Ethiopia, Puetz launched the company (B)energy in 2014 with the aim of boosting local enterprise in the African country.
“It’s about giving people access to technology and a chance to help themselves with dignity and pride, instead of pity”
‘I designed the backpacks to be part of a sustainable franchise,’ Puetz says. The idea is that (B)energy can be used as a catalyst for local businesses. Franchisees set themselves up with biogas systems to sell on to gas makers. Potential entrepreneurs can then buy the biogas system to create and sell affordable gas to the local community. The size, power and design of the biogas technology can be adjusted to adapt to local cooking practices.
According to Puetz, the best way to bring change to a developing country is to separate enterprise from aid organisations: ‘It’s about giving people access to technology and a chance to help themselves with dignity and pride, instead of pity,’ she says.
She hopes (B)energy will be used as a model for other sustainable franchises in developing countries. ‘It’s a social business – that means that no one gets rich and profits are reinvested to it. I have tried to set it up in a way that can be easily replicated anywhere in the world by local people using local money and adapting to local requirements.’
This was published in the April 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.