Biogas as a Social Business

Bringing biogas to rural communities in the Horn of Africa


To address the energy needs of people in rural areas in Ethiopia, the Sustainable Energy Program the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Center and Network (HoA-REC&N), along with its partners, has initiated a project to make biogas more readily available to communities.


Access to energy for cooking and lighting is a very real issue faced by rural populations across the Horn of Africa. Demand for fuel wood currently outstrips supply and its use can result in deforested woodlands.

Biogas is a gas produced from the anaerobic breakdown of organic waste materials. It is primarily a mix of methane and carbon dioxide, a combustible product which can be used as a renewable and easily controlled fuel. Since it can be produced from regionally available raw materials, it offers a potentially affordable and sustainable means for rural householders to meet their energy needs.

A biogas digester is required to make biogas. This is a plant providing the conditions for anaerobic decomposition of organic waste into useable fuel. The outputs from the digester are biogas and slurry which can be used as fertilizer.

The concept ’Biogas as a Social Business‘, including technological solutions to make biogas marketable, was developed by Katrin Puetz at the University of Hohenheim, Germany. HoA-REC&N recognized the potential of this concept to improve the availability of biogas in the region and has initiated several projects with this aim.

These projects either promote the sale of biogas from one central biogas plant rather than many individual small-scale digesters, or the use of newly developed small scale plug flow digesters designed for small scale biogas businesses. In addition, they endorse the use of biogas backpacks, a transport container for biogas, also designed by Katrin Puetz.

The biogas is stored, sold and transported in the biogas backpacks, or B-packs. A B-pack is essentially a bag which can be filled with biogas and carried in the same way as any other back pack. It weighs 4.5 kg, has maximum volume of 1.2 m³ and can easily be connected to a biogas stove via a simple hose. The gas is then forced out of the pack by weighting it down. It is also possible to use biogas as fuel for specialized lamps for lighting. However, this technology is currently at prototype stage.

The major aim of current projects is to assess the business potential of the ‘Biogas as a Social Business’ concept in different situations.



General Objectives

An initial pilot project aims to test, promote and demonstrate the concept of ’Biogas as a Social Business’.

The pilot will establish the following in a Central Rift Valley town in Ethiopia:

  • A model branch office: The branch office will act as the pilot project’s headquarters and will be run by a branch manager. It is here information, advice and project services will be available. For example, at the branch office customers will be able to buy biogas digesters, B-packs or stoves, or receive microfinance.
  • A technology demonstration site and training hub: This will include a demonstration biogas digester, B-packs, biogas stoves, and a vegetable plantation to showcase the use of slurry as fertilizer. The digester will be operated by the branch manager and customers have the opportunity to test the biogas and stoves for 1 week.
  • A service to promote the use of slurry: by delivering it straight to the field/site, as opposed to selling liquid slurry which is very difficult to transport.

Promotion and Demonstration

In contrast to common pilot projects, this project will not actively select suitable households for participation. Instead, local entrepreneurs will be approached by the branch manager who will promote the idea of establishing biogas businesses among community members, and explain the requirements for biogas production in terms of space, input substrate and water. This approach is necessary to determine whether there is sufficient demand to run biogas as a business, independent of incentives.

Promotion and demonstration will be ‘bottom up’, by creating a market for biogas energy in the area.  It will consist of:

  • Active promotional activities such as information dissemination and door-to-door marketing;
  • Passive promotion by offering drop-in information service at the branch office during defined hours.


Biogas as a Social Business will have two types of customers:

  1. The biogas business owners who install their own biogas system and become biogas and fertilizer suppliers for their own profit.
  2. Customers who cannot afford to install a biogas digester due to substrate, financial or other reasons, can either buy biogas in B-packs from the producers and/or purchase slurry as fertilizer.

Expected Outputs

The establishment of a fully operational branch office with demonstration site from where biogas systems continue to be sold;

  At least 5 biogas systems sold to 5 customers and the systems will become operational and further demand for the technology will be created;

  Additional biogas systems will be sold and installed if possible, otherwise orders will be taken and the systems will be delivered and installed once they can be produced domestically or imported; and

Existing biogas owners will sell biogas to their neighbors, thus running their own small businesses and contributing positively to spreading knowledge about biogas by promoting their own systems.


By providing information about biogas as an alternative source of energy, as well as access to both the technology itself and financial support (e.g. microfinance), biogas becomes a real and affordable option for rural household energy in the Horn of Africa. Run as a local small scale business, many stakeholders can benefit.


Contact :


Sustainable Energy Programme Coordinator

+251 (0) 118 951992