Supplying green cooking gas to the developing world

Homebiogas founders credit: Homebiogas
Homebiogas founders credit: Homebiogas

Over 40,000 families in 100 countries use Israeli company Homebiogas's products, replacing the polluting wood and coal used for indoor cooking.

Sometime in the late nineties, Oshik Efrati went on a post-army trip, after having served as deputy commander of the IDF Golani brigade. "The year I traveled around Africa, I saw how the locals live, and how they cook over a fire inside their little huts. It was crazy. We couldn't stay inside even for a minute, with the heat and smoke, and they just live like that."

But the real problem with indoor fires is not just comfort. According to UN data, about 4 million people died in 2019 from exposure to air pollution in residential areas. This problem affects residents of developing countries, where reliance on wood and other solid fuels, such as raw coal for cooking, heating, and lighting, increases air pollution "Every hour of cooking inside using wood and coal is the equivalent of smoking 400 cigarettes," Efrati explains. "Over the years, I studied marine biology and worked as a product developer, but I always wanted to solve that."

Almost by coincidence, Oshik's good friend, Yair Teller, worked in the exact sector where the solution to the problem was to be found. "He introduced me to biogas. As soon as I discovered that waste, with the proper treatment, could produce cooking gas, my mind started working. He said: 'You know how to develop products. Let's build a system that’s suitable for homes.'"

In 2012, Efrati, Teller and another partner, Erez Lanzer, founded Homebiogas Ltd. (TASE: HMGS) on the balcony of Efrati's house in Moshav Mikhmoret. "The idea was to develop a product that would be delivered in a small bag, assembled easily, and filled with garbage to produce gas. In addition, the product produces fertilizer that is excellent for crops. It's circular and green in every way."

It seems almost self-evident in 2024 that switching to green technologies is worthwhile, but not everyone supported the idea when the trio set out. "At the time, the idea of environmental protection was associated with tree huggers and new agers. Today the situation is completely different. The climate crisis is part of the public discourse, and there is much greater awareness. It used to be that people thought we were delusional, today we feel like heroes."

Over 40,000 families in 100 countries use Homebiogas products today. The company has several registered patents, created an international standard, and partnered with the UN on 13 global projects. In 2021, Homebiogas went public on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), raising $60 million. The company has 120 employees, 50 in Israel and 70 in Africa, as well as many more contractors providing services around the world. Homebiogas operates in India, Nepal, Rwanda, and countries in Latin America including Brazil, Mexico, and El Salvador. Efrati also gained a unique kind of closure when Homebiogas products entered the huts of tribes he had visited in Africa.

How can an African woman living in a straw hut afford an advanced green technology system?

"We found ways to finance the sales in Africa for those who don't have a lot of money. On our company's website, the basic product is sold for $800-1,000, and in Africa, India and other countries users pay $300 for the system or even less. It costs them much less than the wood or coal they must get."

Beyond cooking gas

Today, countries worldwide incentivize companies to minimize pollution in their production processes as a means of promoting pollution reduction. Companies considered non-polluting can sell the "carbon credits" earned to others and, in return, are financially rewarded. "Every system we install in Kenya provides gas for about six hours of cooking a day and saves nine tons of carbon a year. We receive carbon credits for this and sell them for quite a bit of money each year. It finances our activity, and we even earn a real profit on it." Furthermore, many countries have imposed a carbon tax on polluting companies. In line with this global trend and following OECD recommendations, this has also been proposed in Israel and is currently under discussion.

But the Homebiogas story does not end with devices for producing domestic gas from waste. Today the company sells additional products in developed western countries: for example, Bio-Toilets, ecologically-friendly toilets that turn human waste into cooking gas; and Biogas Pro, a system that makes use of waste from large facilities, converting it into gas for heating. "These are advanced systems suitable for hotels, restaurants, residential buildings. We installed one such system at a military base -- it takes all the waste from the dining room, treats it, and turns it into gas that then heats the base's water. In the coming months, we will also install a system in a multi-family house building in New Jersey, where 340 families live. This will be the first time in the world that a system like this will be installed in a building."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on June 13, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Homebiogas founders credit: Homebiogas
Homebiogas founders credit: Homebiogas
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018