The Bio-Resy, a small-scale biogas digester from German-based Bio-Ways UG, enables users to transform their organic kitchen waste into a type of renewable energy called biogas.
Biogas technology could help people in developing countries
This article was published by the Chester Energy and Policy blog on Dec. 5, 2018.
With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it’s officially time to begin searching for the perfect gift for that loved one who already has everything.
If that hard-to-shop-for person happens to also be a renewable energy and sustainability nut– the kind of person who was the first in the neighbourhood to install solar panels or to replace their incandescent light bulbs with LEDs– then the Bio-Resy might be the perfect holiday present.
Officially launched on December 1, 2018, this small-scale biogas digester from German-based Bio-Ways UG enables users to transform their organic kitchen waste into a type of renewable energy called biogas.
After unpacking the Bio-Resy system (it can fold into the size of a suitcase and weighs 23 kilograms) and installing it on a two meter by two meter surface outside your home, simply add the starter kit of uniquely selected bacteria and up to seven litres of food scraps and you’re on your way. The digester will then turn the food waste into biogas that can power a gas stove, a gas-powered lamp, a generator, and more.
Because these food scraps would have naturally decomposed and released methane at a landfill, this process reduces greenhouse gas emissions and can be considered a source of renewable energy by making use of the processes that would already be taking place in nature.
In that way, smart use of the Bio-Resy enables consumers to operate their homes (or farms, camp sites, remote lodging, etc.) more sustainably. But the Bio-Resy isn’t just for the energy techie, as many serious problems can also be solved by outfitting rural and developing areas of the world with this technology.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Kenny Storbeck, the co-founder and director of Bio-Ways and inventor of the Bio-Resy, to ask him about this unique product and the opportunities it affords its customers, as well as the fascinating social benefits it offers to households in remote and developing areas.
But before the Q&A, let’s take a look at the Bio-Resy’s specs:
Inputs: Bio-Ways suggests adding non-fibrous organic material containing low lignin composition for best use. In other words, the Bio-Resy can easily convert kitchen and vegetable garden waste, human waste, animal manure, soft grass clippings, and leaves into energy, while dry grass, straw, or branches will not work.
Outputs: The resultant biogas contains about 60 per cent methane, 33 per cent carbon dioxide, and 6 per cent water and is capable of outputting up to 1,000 litres of biogas per day. The Bio-Resy comes equipped with a carbon and hydrogen filter and water trap to ensure the burnt gas is virtually emissions free.
Cost: The Bio-Resy is available at €450 (about $510) during their Kickstarter period (from December 1, 2018, through January 2, 2019), after which it will sell at full retail of €650 (about $740).
Warranty: The Bio-Resy comes with a 24-month warranty.
Sales to date: Bio-Ways has tested prototype units in various field locations over the past year to fine tune the final design and have sold a number of units, but public sales only just started on December 1, 2018.
History of the Bio-Resy
Matt Chester: First things first, thanks so much for finding the time to share with me more about this project that had excited me since I first learned about it. I wanted to start at the very beginning and hear about the origin of the Bio-Resy. Can you speak to the motivation behind the project? Was it from frustration at wasting food at your dinner table? Looking for environmental solutions? Or did you realize the business opportunity first?
Kenny Storbeck: Having grown up in Africa, I was aware at an early age of the daily struggle that people in rural communities must forage their surroundings for firewood to cook. I have seen first-hand how this increasing demand for natural resources has a visible negative effect on the environment as well as the health of women and children, who normally cook enveloped in a cloud of indoor smoke. In 2014, while traveling through Tanzania, I came across a homemade biogas unit standing outside a house in a very remote area, far from any grid power. This family used the leftovers from their food waste to produce clean cooking gas and it dawned on me that I had finally found a solution that can have a meaningful impact on people and the environment.
Chester: Wow– so it was a design by someone who needed it the most who served as inspiration. That’s so cool. How long have you been working on the Bio-Resy? How have you overcome the hurdles you’ve encountered along the way?
Storbeck: We started on this project in the middle of 2016. Our initial difficulty was in finding the correct materials to produce a strong, lightweight system that could be delivered to remote areas all over the world. As we planned every step of the way with pedantic precision, our prototype worked extremely well throughout the testing phase. But bringing the product to market– that has been more of an art form than we initially could have thought. We’ve learned that this product generates great excitement in nearly everyone we speak to about it, but the trick is finding ways to spread the word about it.
Chester: Were those difficulties in finding an audience what brought you to crowdfunding to raise funds for this project?
Storbeck: We were attracted to the crowdfunding model to raise our initial start-up capital for two reasons. First, running a successful Kickstarter campaign requires a lot of energy, time, and hard work and not necessarily a large initial capital outlay. Not having much of the latter to invest at the outset made crowdfunding an obvious choice. Secondly, by not engaging with investors, who will naturally have their own set of requirements, we are free to engage with interested buyers directly and without limitations. And that is what I like– I like being able to speak with people directly to show them what a wonderful system this is and to see them enjoying all the benefits that it brings.
Zeroing in on the technology
Chester: How long does the actual waste-to-gas conversion process take? And how quickly can a user learn the process?
Storbeck: Typically, the conversion process begins as soon as the organic material enters the digestion chamber and is completed within three days. Thereby, adding the desired amount of organic material daily ensures that the system runs at peak performance and produces the maximum amount of gas daily.
The Bio-Resy has been specifically designed for ease of use, including easy delivery and tool-free setup, use, and maintenance. The illustrated user’s manual walks you through the quick steps for setup and daily use. By following that manual, users will complete setup within an hour.
Chester: How is the generated biogas stored?
Storbeck: The Bio-Resy has a gas chamber that stores up to 1,000 litres of biogas at a time, which is designed to supplement the daily energy needs of an average household. Alternatively, the biogas can be compressed into gas cylinders for mobile or later use using a hand pump if you choose to remain off grid, or with an electric gas compression pump if you choose to use electricity for storage.
Chester: Can you discuss the various uses for the biogas that’s generated, including cooking gas as the main selling point, but also additional purposes like running a generator, scooter, refrigerator, etc.? How do consumers utilize these functions of biogas and how do they compare to life without home-generated biogas?
Storbeck: Biogas is a form of natural gas and behaves the same in nearly every respect. The advantage of making it by yourself at home is that you are converting daily waste into energy, essentially turning a problem into an advantage. Secondly, home generation cuts out the expenses from natural gas infrastructure, transportation, and distribution. Creating this gas at home is free and saves on monthly energy bills. Further, biogas burns clean, making it very healthy to use in your home and great to run small engines without polluting the atmosphere.
The uses of biogas depend mostly on the consumers’ needs. People who live off grid, for example, may want to use biogas mostly for cooking and lighting and have a small generator on standby for when they need a little electricity.
In some other areas, the biogas may be used for small commercial enterprises such as selling food cooked with biogas and cold drinks cooled with biogas. For people simply wanting to live more sustainably by supplementing their energy consumption, the Bio-Resy can do just that and it is up to you whether you use it to cook, power a refrigerator, run a scooter, and so on.
We are including the biogas stove and biogas lamp with our early bird special on Kickstarter, but other biogas appliances will be available through our website at the end of the campaign. We’ll even offer conversion kits that allow standard petroleum engines to run on biogas.
Market for the Bio-Resy and expected consumer benefits
Chester: Who’s the ideal consumer for the Bio-Resy? Is this for the suburban family with adequate time and space? Or is this more directed at the developing nations to fuel affordable and efficient energy?
Storbeck: At a time when our environment has never been more in the focus, millions of people are asking themselves daily what they could be doing to make things better. These people are from all walks of life: suburban families, homesteaders, off-grid pioneers, and farming families.
This system is also ideal for restaurants and lodges who cater for guests and have lots of food waste. These guys are in the perfect position to cook today’s meals with yesterday’s kitchen waste and save a ton of money on cooking gas.
Having lived in Africa most of my life, it is also our great desire to get these systems into as many households as we can in the next 10 years throughout developing nations because we know what a life-changing event this would be for those families and the environment by breaking the ‘cut and cook’ cycle.
Another area where these units will be extremely effective is on small island communities, where natural resources for fuel are limited and protected and the price of energy is painfully high due to the cost of shipping.
In developing nations and small island communities, our eco-toilet can also be connected to the Bio-Resy to provide a healthy sanitation solution and produce even more energy daily.
Chester: That’s amazing to hear the specific benefits the Bio-Resy can bring to rural, island, and developing areas. Do you have any partnerships set up to assist bringing the Bio-Resy to areas that may not have access to find or afford the product?
Storbeck: We have teamed up with a local organization in the Cape Verde Islands that is engaged in conservation and community development work to try and provide units to people in need there. We also continue to provide training and support to this project and following our Kickstarter campaign we aim to form many more of these partnerships in the private and public sectors to get as many of these systems to as many people as we can where they are truly needed.
Chester: You note that each Bio-Resy unit eliminates 8.6 tons of carbon emissions annually. Can you talk about how that number is calculated? And when the biogas is used (whether in grilling, lighting, or any of the other mentioned uses), is CO2 released?
Storbeck: This 8.6 tons figure is calculated by converting the average yearly kitchen waste of a four-person household into kilograms of CO2 landfill emissions and then offsetting this figure against the cost of cooking via electricity over the same time period.
If one includes the CO2 emissions from municipal transport of organic waste to landfills, the estimate would be even higher. This does not even include the benefits of trapping the methane and using this as fuel, as methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Combusting the biogas does emit a small amount of CO2, however when weighed against the amount of much more potent methane the same amount of organic material will release into the atmosphere if not converted into energy, cooking with the Bio-Resy is clearly the right way to go. This result is great for families and great for our environment.
Chester: Minimizing carbon footprints seems to be the most obvious benefit of the Bio-Resy, but can you talk about the actual cost savings users will see? And perhaps you can mention any of the other benefits that we haven’t already discussed?
Storbeck: Of course– depending on where you are from and the price of your energy, the Bio-Resy could give you a return on investment within three to six months. In addition, the Bio-Resy produces top-quality natural liquid fertilizer to boost production in your garden.
For those looking for a sanitation solution, I mentioned our eco-toilet– but that only uses 1.5 litres per flush compared with 7-10 litres for regular toilets.
In the rural areas we discussed before, people typically spend four hours per day collecting firewood, but the Bio-Resy is set to alleviate a lot of stress on natural resources which is causing mass deforestation and biodiversity loss.
And women and children not only receive the previously discussed health benefits of indoor cooking with cleaner fuel, but they’re also exposed to less danger from wildlife and ill-willed people by not having to spend so many hours every day unprotected and far from their homes, which in turn opens up more time for income-generating activities and education.
I could go on, but I think that the benefits are abundantly clear!
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To read more about innovative companies with sustainability breakthroughs, see this article on G3C Technology’s efforts to improve the circular economy of tires, this article on Sol Voltaics’ breakthroughs in thin-film solar technology, and this interview with the founder of KeepCool Bags.
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.