Hope you're doing well.
In the editorial for Outside Influence, I mention an excerpt from my interview with Olugbenga Olubanjo who develops battery 'capsules' that are rented on a daily basis in Lagos. He spoke about the gaps that solar home systems have for lower income consumers and how these exist because the manufacturing decisions for these products are largely made outside of the places where they are used. I think that's changing slowly and the zine tries to show how. It's available today and members are receiving their physical copies at the moment, make sure you get a copy!
In case you missed it or want to see the most clicked newsletter links from the past year, here is last month’s newsletter.
First Things First
Close to a decade ago, I was completing my undergrad thesis at Songhai Farms in Porto Novo, Benin Republic. My research was to build a neural network model that could predict the yield in their biogas plant with remarkable accuracy. Farms on the continent have been huge adopters of clean energy, mostly because they're usually located in rural communities unconnected to the grid but also to reduce their electricity bills.
At Songhai, I learnt that animal waste takes a long time to decompose so it's usually mixed with water hyacinth in a pre-determined ratio before put into the plant to accelerate the process. The gas produced (mostly methane) goes through scrubbers that eliminate unwanted gases like H₂S before powering a gas engine.
P&ID of Songhai's biogas plant, circa 2012.
Over the years, there have been a lot of efforts to scale up methane production from biogas as a alternative to Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) used for cooking. It's never taken hold due to many technical challenges which many researchers are actively working on, one of which is bottling the gas safely. Methane is highly flammable and can form explosive mixtures with air.
Some other drawbacks are business-related. Methane has a lower volumetric energy density than LPG so cylinders would need to be refilled twice as often as an LPG cylinder of the same weight. Three months ago, researchers from the UK, Ghana, and Uganda published an interesting paper (PDF) about the viability of biomethane production at different levels of scale. Their study compared the viability in both Ghana and Uganda; they found that the most important factor affecting scale is the comparative cost of LPG. In Ghana, where a cylinder costs half as much as in Uganda, the biogas output would need to be in excess of 25 Nm³/hour to have a chance of success.
In Uganda, one could achieve success with plant capacity of just 3 Nm³/hour. I'm curious to see if this is technology that could achieve immediate success in countries with higher LPG cost and then be expanded to those with lower costs, so a continent-wide strategy might be the best bet if you're in this space.
New on hardwarethings.org
From Cairo: Rawnaa Al-Masry writes about the Egypt Makes Electronics (EME) initiative, the government's long-term strategy to make the country a major electronics producer by attracting heavyweights like Siemens and empowering young hardware entrepreneurs. Startups like XIOT have been able to ramp up their production using free government facilities, a model that should be explored by other countries across the continent.
Things I Enjoyed Reading
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is usually seen as a way that local firms could learn from global partnerships to improve their production processes by improving and maintaining quality processes more effective. Earlier this year, Bertha Vallejo and Tadesse Getachew Mekonnen explored that idea in a working paper; their analysis of Chinese and Indian investments into the Ethiopian textile manufacturing sector show that foreign firms tend to neglect training and technology transfer beyond what is strictly necessary for their operations.
Ghati Nyehita wrote an interesting article about the maker movement for biotech entrepreneurs highlighting her experiences working at BioCiTi in Cape Town. South Africa has a limiting provision as part of their patent law that does not allow a lot of biotech innovations to be patented. These provisions exclude discoveries of “any essentially derived biological processes” and “microbiological process or products of such processes” from being patented. With that background, she goes into what biotech innovators can do in the present to protect their work.
Hot Nozzle is a gas-powered shower head for homes without electric central water heating. [South Africa]
Fleeti is developing software for managing and triaging vehicle performance using installed sensors. [Mauritius]
Things To Apply For
Efficiency for Access is receiving applications from off-grid refrigeration startups to be part of a research project on incentivizing local assembly and manufacturing options for these appliances in Africa and India.
Deadline: September 3, 2021.
Westerwelle Young Founders Programme (YFP) is receiving applications for their six-month fellowship for startup leaders in emerging and developing markets.
Deadline: September 3, 2021.
In Botswana, Grit Tech is manufacturing Direct Current (DC) Home Solar System distribution boxes. Set up as a franchisee under the national power outfit, they also provide off-grid electricity services within the existing rural grid electrification programme.
Related: Did you know that Botswana has 5,000 times more renewable energy (RE) resource than it needs to power its population?
Until next time,