ATEC Biodigesters International, which reached financial close after winning the business plan competition at the 2017 PFAN Climate & Clean Energy Investment Forum in Vienna, has become the world’s leading producer of household biodigesters, providing renewable biogas for cooking and organic fertiliser to low-income households.
Two Australian NGOs, Engineers without Borders and Live and Learn, developed the social enterprise to address not only the health issues associated with cooking with wood, but to also impact the lives of women and children – often tasked with collecting firewood – and providing benefits for farmers.
An ambitious project, with massive impact potential, ATEC caught the eye of investors early on, but what it lacked was professional feedback, guidance and tipping point assistance, which PFAN was able to provide.
ATEC Biodigesters were designed to provide a clean, safe and free energy source (after the initial investment) for low-income households. “There were issues at multiple levels. Firstly, Cambodia has a low rate of access to the electrical grid. Women in particular are faced with severe health issues resulting from using dirty cooking methods with 90% resorting to wood, coal or charcoal, which we know is damaging to the environment and their health,” said Cécile Dahomé, country coordinator for Cambodia and the PFAN coach assigned to work with ATEC. Besides providing energy, the biodigester also produces 20 tons of organic fertiliser per year, saving an average Cambodian family around USD 254 per year in total. Critically, the product was designed to withstand floods, earthquakes and other extreme conditions.
The investment facilitated by PFAN after ATEC’s success at the 2017 Investment Forum in Vienna has allowed the project to scale up.
“The project really benefitted from professional feedback provided by the programme. Refining the pitch and presentation has resulted in an increase in business opportunities,” said Dahomé, adding that being involved in a network meant the project was exposed to new ideas around business development and could meet and learn from other projects and investors from other countries.
ATEC has scaled up its operations, which now cover 13 provinces in Cambodia, and is looking into expanding to other countries including Myanmar and Indonesia.
“The project has grown significantly. Often we see good ideas, but not always good teams. ATEC had both and the resulting impact is clear.” Dahomé said that because the ATEC biodigester is an “off the shelf” product, it has great potential for export, additional scaling up and reaching an exciting new market. “The team has also been innovative in its sales and distribution model, making it attractive to investors and consumers.”
What was inspired by the needs of millions of Cambodians, and started by NGOs, has turned into a story of a successful business making a positive contribution to the prosperity and livelihoods of its customers and to the environment in which they live.