Starting a Kenyan Biogas Empire

with FOV Biogas digesters

Project outline

FOV is a Swedish company that produces technically advanced woven fabrics for different applications, including airbags for cars. FOV Biogas is a daughter of that company which makes soft, tubular biogas digesters out of a FOV fabric, especially made for this purpose. The digesters are made in India.

In my master thesis about implementing biogas for cooking in Kenya, I mentioned soft, tubular biogas digesters, and thought they were pretty good. Second only to the Lysekil design that I was working on myself. After talking to FOV, however, I found that their digester is actually cheaper than mine (that I built on spot, with only locally available materials) despite the shipping costs, is much easier to scale up, and lasts longer!… Plus they claim it can be run with a multitude of different feeds and not only cow dung, which was my biggest concern with them. Conclusion: Theirs is definitely better than mine! Whaddayaknow…

fov_biogas_digester
Image: http://www.fovbiogas.com

So I hope to buy some 10 household size digesters from them to start with (though I’ll need some help with this! See below under How you can help). I’ll find a way to import them to Kenya, and to finance this. One plant I’ll keep for myself. The rest I will sell.

Startup and running

In August 2017, I’ll start up my own plant in Kenya, while farming some vegetables that we’ll sell. We’ll make two fields of crops, one that we fertilize with biogas digestate and one that we fertilize with whatever else they use in the area. I’ll also look for some other sources of income, before the biogas starts paying off. I’ll be selling some gas to the neighbor, and the digestate as fertilizer, and after a while I might charge people for taking care of their latrine. I’ll take out some parents pay from Sweden, but not too much… mostly intended for my possible expenditures in Sweden (student loan payments etc).

I want to run my digester on cow dung, our own latrine and suitable wild plants if there are some. (Research!) According to my master thesis, the digester should be fed with 1.9-3.1 kg TS (Total Solids) per day, that is ca 10-15 kg fresh material and as much water. I want to insulate the plant with claystraw like in my master project, and cook with a well insulated stove, possibly also made of claystraw.

Selling digesters

When I feel confident in how the digester works and that I can give support for it if my customers have problems, I’ll start selling digesters. Probably by then, we will already have some who are interested in buying. Customers can either pay upfront or pay a part upfront and the rest monthly or weekly until fully paid. The latter will come with a suitable interest rate.

Women groups and other groups that do collective saving or microfinance can be used to sell the digesters. The group pays together for one digester to one member. Then they go around the group, until each member has a digester.

Project location

I will probably set base in Mazeras, just outside Mombasa, where I have good contacts. Mombasa has a university that we could have some cooperation with. (Maybe they can help us with chemical analyses of different feed materials?) Mazeras has no lack of water, any time of the year, which is good. There are also cows around, and latrine pits which people pay to have emptied. Most people are involved in farming. Qn: What do people pay for fertilizer?

How you can help

It would be great to have some volunteers (perhaps through Engineers Without Borders) with us to help us develop the system. You could, for example, do a study with us for a project in school. Useful competences to us could be different types of engineering, farming, permaculture, combustion technology, marketing,… But just your enthusiasm and a pair of hands would be great! 🙂

I have some financing, but I still need more to reach my target of 10 digesters. If you want to help, you can either be a partner in my company, or give me a loan, and I’ll buy you out/pay back my loan, after I’ve sold the digesters (unless, of course, you want to remain a partner). Contact me, and we’ll talk!

Digester count
Goal: 10 digesters
Finance acquired: 8.1 digesters
Remaining until goal is reached: 1.9 digesters

Financing can possibly also be found through Swedish Energy Department, Sida, local development projects etc. However, my research has taught me that things should never be given away for free, and even subsidies should preferably only be used in a start-up phase, to balance up for the disadvantages of scale that we will suffer in the beginning, especially concerning shipping costs.

My goal is that the project will finance itself eventually,  with a customer break-even point of 1-3 years (see calculations below).

The Future

If sales really take off, we might start production in Kenya a number of years from now, together with FOV. Then we would only be shipping the fabric from Sweden to Kenya (rather than fabric first being shipped from Sweden to India, and then digesters being shipped back from India to Kenya). If this happens, we will also expand our market outside of Kenya. That’s when the term “empire” comes in! 😉


Article about biogas in Kenya 2016: http://news.trust.org/item/20160324121157-epqyi/


Some calculations:

The digesters cost around $100 per m3, so:

5 m3: $500
10 m3: $1’000

Shipping comes outside of this. Let’s assume $260 for the whole load (http://www.seafreightcalculator.com/africa/ 1 cbm (m3?), 1000 kg) That means I have to sell them for, (if I get only 4 (so hopefully it will be less than this!)):

5 m3: $500 + $260/3 + margin = $587 + margin = $700 ≃ 72’000 KES
10 m3: $1’000 + $260/3 + margin = $1’087 + margin = $1’300 ≃ 133’000 KES

200 l of biogas is enough to cook three meals per day for one person, using a non insulated stove. (My thesis.) Assume that our digester will produce 500 l gas per m3 active volume and day (my thesis, non-insulated digester, plant feed). That is 500 l/(m3xday) x 2.5 m3 = 1.25 m3 gas/day. That would cook 3 meals per day for 6.25 people.

6 people cooking with charcoal pays a bit over 1’500/= per month for cooking fuel (according to my friends who live there). This means they would have their investment back in 3 years, only on cooking fuel. Other benefits include larger crop yields, fields that don’t have to rest (ligga i träda) but keep producing year after year, and a safe, free latrine solution.

Assume they instead use the more expensive cooking fuel LPG gas:
13 kg LPG costs 2’268/= in April 2016 (according to http://www.kenyanbusinessreview.com/745/cooking-gas-prices-kenya-2/). If you use 2 of those per month (a conservative figure), you’ll have your investment back in 1.3 years.