SimGas makes and installs domestic biogas systems in farms and rural households in East Africa, using livestock manure as the main input.
There are between 5 and 10 million smallholder livestock farmers in East Africa, and they are heavily dependent on wood as their primary energy source. This demand is a major driver of deforestation and soil degradation in the region.
The anaerobic digesters produced locally by SimGas convert livestock manure into biogas – which is used for cooking, as well to power appliances such as lamps and milk chillers – and a rich organic fertiliser worth an estimated $300 per household per year. SimGas claims that each system can replace up to five tonnes of wood per person annually.
Since its foundation in 2009, SimGas has installed more than 1,500 biogas systems in Kenya and Tanzania; each installation includes a biogas stove, which is delivered on receipt of each customer’s first down payment. The firm’s local biogas system factory can produce up to 10,000 units per year.
The biogas-powered milk chillers developed by SimGas is helping livestock farmers bottom lines, too. “One cubic metre of biogas can cool up to 10 litres of milk per day. There is a need for storage and cooling since the distribution of milk is limited to certain times of the day (it gets dark at 6pm and roads are bad),” explains Sanne Castro, CEO of SimGas. “The biogas milk chiller means it can be stored, chilled overnight and transported the next day.”
EIT Climate-KIC’s role
EIT Climate-KIC accepted SimGas onto its Accelerator programme in 2012, after a thorough pitch and introduction through EIT Climate-KIC’s partner Yes!Delft. At the time, the priority was to find a greater level of investment to move the company on from being a start-up. EIT Climate-KIC provided a grant, a move that helped attract major corporate shareholders by demonstrating SimGas’ credibility. “To get letters of recommendation from people who were recognised in industry and who could lend some credibility to a new venture – this informal support was crucial,” says Castro.
Another major avenue of support was the masterclasses provided as part of the Accelerator programme. “One, in particular, was a marketing masterclass, not just about segmentation but about positioning yourself as an entrepreneur to attract investment. It was about understanding where you are in relation to the rest of the innovation landscape and your competitors,” says Castro. “I really enjoyed the discussion with coaches and those within EIT Climate-KIC. There’s a high level of authority, knowledge and expertise in the field. There was always constructive feedback and sometimes that is the best thing that you can have.”