re:char

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Overview

Producing carbon-negative biochar for small farmers in East Africa to improve soils and sequester atmospheric carbon

 

Overview

Headquarters Austin, TX, USA
Established 2009
Impact Areas East Africa
Type For-Profit
Energy Sectors
Business Model Types
Staff Size 6 full time
Annual Budget $150,000
Major Funders Founders, Echoing Green, Hitachi Foundation, Dutch Postco Green Challenge
Awards 2009: Pop!Tech Fellowship
2009: “Top Innovation of 2009” The Economist Carbon Economy Conference
2010: Businessweek “Top 25 Social Entrepreneur in America”

ABOUT

re:char produces a low-cost soil amendment called biochar via village-scale kilns employing local labor.

 

 

Energy Products/Services

Target Market

  • Smallholder farmers with poor soil quality

 

RE:Char

Revenue Streams

  • Sale of biochar kilns

Value Proposition

  • Biochar is a premium charcoal made from farm waste that can be briquetted and burned just like traditional charcoal.
  • Biochar can also be buried in agricultural soils, reducing water and fertilization needs while improving crop yield up to 200%.
  • Finally, the burial of carbon-negative biochar sequesters carbon emissions in the soil.

Problem Addressed

  • At least 45 million small farmers in East Africa face the daily challenges of food scarcity, energy scarcity and climate change.
  • These farmers attempt to make a living by growing food in some of the poorest soils in the world.
  • A lack of reliable electricity forces them to expend 40% of their monthly income on illegally-harvested charcoal.
  • Finally, these small farmers face the looming threat of global climate change, which stands to disrupt growing seasons and increase desertification.

Where They Are Now

Impact to Date

  • Offset the CO2 emissions equivalent of nearly 200 vehicles
  • Doubled farmer income in 1 year in pilot project
  • Reduced fertilizer and water needs by over 15% in test pilot

Milestones

  • 2008: Developed initial prototypes for biochar production kilns
  • 2009: Recruited Dr. James Lovelock as scientific advisor
  • 2010: Launched pilot operations in East Africa
  • 2010: Received grant funding from Echoing Green

Growth Plan

  • 2011: Build and operate 5 kilns in central Kenya
  • 2013: Cash flow breakeven with 100 kilns in operation throughout East Africa
  • 2015: Generate $25M in revenue while offsetting 1 million tones of CO2

How They Deliver

Product sourcing

  • re:char does product design itself and recently shipped a factory in a 20′ shipping container to Bungoma to produce its kilns locally. This allows re:char to easily scale production to new areas, while generating local jobs and reducing transport costs.
  • re:char initially tried to build a product for the US that also produced liquid biofuel, but farmers weren’t interested, and this would have been a much more expensive product to fully develop.
  • Then they realized that there was a much larger potential market in places like East Africa, where farmers can’t afford fertilizer or charcoal.
  • re:char is experimenting with a kiln featuring a flat surface on top that can be cooked on.  Currently sugar waste can’t be used for cooking, but in a biomass kiln, the heat can be used to cook too. The challenge is getting it to burn long enough to cook a full meal.

Distribution

  • Product is currently being sold to farmers through a partner NGO, ACON, in Western Kenya.
  • re:char acts as the supplier of kilns and ACON sells directly to farmers on commission.
  • Distribution is still in the pilot phase, and re:char financed its initial set of stoves, with ACON paiying them after sale.
  • NGOs are the low-hanging fruit for sales.
  • Training is a major element of distribution.  Farmers must be trained how to use the kilns (which type of biomass works, how much to put in, how long to burn it) and convinced to use the char as fertilizer, and this is done by ACON.
  • This is done through demonstration days which also serve as a marketing tool.
  • Potentially re:char could develop a different distribution model of selling fertilizer from its own kilns, but they believe it might be a more challenging sell.

Revenue & Affordability

  • Product is primarily sold for cash, though microcredit is being explored for poorer customers.
  • The $27 price is within most farmers’ capacity.

Financing

  • re:char is thus far totally grant financed, and has managed to raise $370,000.
  • In the next year they will be seeking equity at market rates, but are remaining grant financed until their distribution model is further developed.
  • re:char is not working with carbon credits, as they are not yet large enough to make carbon credits worth verifying, and there is no CDM mechanism yet developed for biochar.

Marketing

  • There is no radio or TV in the communities where re:char works, so marketing is all done through word of mouth.
  • Partner ACON goes village to village to demonstrate the kilns, talking to village elders.
  • The kilns are demonstrated with test plots owned by respected farmers to compare biochar to traditional fertilizer.

 

 

 

More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

1508 E 4th st.
Austin, TX 78701
USA

Rechar Ltd.
P.O. Box 2492
Bungoma 50200
Kenya

* info@re-char.com