Interview with Katrin Pütz, a winner of the “empowering people. Award”

April 17, 2014

How did you come up with the idea of a rucksack for biogas?
I learnt about biogas during my university degree and saw its significance as a useful technology in developing countries. However, I became very sceptical about whether the approach of National Biogas Programs could be successful when I began reading up on biogas activities initiated by aid organizations working in many developing regions. The technology is highly subsidized, yet still incredibly expensive, inefficient due to underground technology, thus immobile despite often unresolved property issues. Furthermore there is no possibility of recovering the investment (besides savings), no approach for using all of the substrates available and producing surplus gas for others as there are no options for storage and transport.The programs can never be run independently. The rucksack, however, enables the sale of biogas and the creation of sales opportunities. This allows the biogas plants to be run profitably with tangible income. In this way, new business model options can be created independent of development funds and these provide imputus for strengthening the community.

How do you finance this business?
We endevour to begin the business with a small seed capital, as much as we can afford, and then grow as soon as we know how the market will develop. The 5,000 Euro prize money from the Siemens Stiftung is helping us to transport old sewing machines for the production of backpacks from Germany to Ethiopia.

How advanced is the project? Where is the biogas backpack being used? Have companies already been founded in Africa?
You can find further information on the website: We have also just realized a pilot project in Arsi Negele, in the Central Rift Valley in Ethiopia. Here we sell biogas in backpacks to households. The biogas is obtained from centralized biogas plants. Installation took place only three weeks ago. That’s why gas production isn’t running at full capacity yet, but the first rucksacks with gas have already been sold.

Do the locals accept the product?
They have really taken to it. Biogas is considered to be a promising source of energy. The backpack now ensures that the biogas produced in the biogas digesters actually reaches households who do not have their own digester.  The supply chain is therefore completed with the backpack and we can transport this sustainably produced energy to the most remote huts. The biogas lights ovens and lamps which in turn have a positive impact on living conditions and health. The alternative is for people to use open fires which are detrimental to physical wellbeing. Women are particularly helped here as it  usually falls upon them to find fuels. The biogas backpack offers real relief. Up till now the demand for the product has been bigger than we could meet. This is simply because we have to create the complete sales infrastructure and we can only start (B)energy in July.

How are the backpacks sold?
Biogas Rucksacks are to be sold using a franchise system. This means that there are to be sales opportunities around the whole country and each point of sale will also safeguard that the operator’s existence will be safeguarded because of the biogas plant attached to it. By selling the biogas, the operator will be ensured a regular and secure income.
As many smaller farmers won’t be able to buy the biogas rucksack straight away, our company will also be offering microfinancing. People will then be able to pay off the rucksack in installments – and this is a realistic model for them.

What plans are there for the future?
We are building the first franchise business in Ethiopia at the moment. There will also be opportunities for German companies to be involved and to profit from our business approach. The idea is to establish shared branch offices with (B)energy in Etiophia that enable inventors or producers of products for basic supply to test their product in a new and untapped market.

Katrin Pütz
Katrin Pütz

Katrin Pütz is an agricultural engineer at the University of Hohenheim. At the moment she is working on a project in a remote area of Ethiopia where she is aiding individuals to establish independent social businesses with biogas. Her goal is to enable people to produce energy with the means available. All participants are expected to benefit from this new supply of power although there are no subsidies, development aid and research funding. Her Biogas Backpack is an important component for this endeavor. Katrin Pütz is one of the winners of the "empowering people Award” held by Siemens Stiftung.


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