29 May 2017
Cairo, Egypt
Renewable energy and energy efficiency, Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

Good ideas are typically represented by the flicking on of a lightbulb, but for Yostina Boules, her eureka moment came when Egypt was facing one of its many power outages. Boules is the Founder and Managing Director of Taqa Solutions, a social enterprise that wants to make sustainable energy accessible for all Egyptian poultry farmers, regardless of their location. After all, these farms are the ones that suffer greatly during times of inconsistent power.

Poultry farms require a near-constant supply of energy for ventilation and heating systems, during the summer and winter, respectively, Boules said. For this, farmers often resort to expensive and non-renewable sources of energy.

Creating fuel from biomass:

“I started visiting farms and saw the problem myself: energy shortage and blackouts were affecting many industries,” Boules said of her idea. “I started investigating which industries could benefit from having their waste turned into energy through anaerobic digestion technology.”

“Our hope with Taqa Solutions is that if we give farmers an independent source of energy they will move their farms to areas where it is safer and healthier for birds and people,”Yostina Boules, Taqa Solutions Founder
Energy shortage drives one entrepreneur to use poultry waste | The Switchers

Boules chose poultry farms for a number of reasons. Poultry farming is one of Egypt’s main agricultural industries and employs more than two million temporary and permanent workers. Despite its economic importance, the industry faces major challenges. The first is the waste produced by the chickens, which can easily spread diseases if not properly culled on a daily basis. Second, the search for diesel and butane can drive farmers to the black market. Finally, most poultry farms are located around the national electrical grid, meaning a disease like H1N1 can easily spread through the dense poultry population.

“Our hope with Taqa Solutions is that if we give farmers an independent source of energy they will move their farms to areas where it is safer and healthier for birds and people,” Boules explained. That independent energy solution comes from a machine that Boules and her team developed.

It anaerobically digests poultry waste right at a farmer’s site, producing gas which is purified and injected into engines. Those engines then generate the energy needed to power a farm — no fossil fuels required.

Producing energy from biomass is not a new technology in Egypt, but Taqa Solutions’ innovation has been maximizing the production of energy and adopting technology that is able to digest a wider array of organic waste while maintaining the same efficiency.

“Anaerobic digestion is one of the most promising approaches to producing energy in MENA and around the world,” said Dr. Zeina Hobaika, an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Science at Saint Joseph University of Beirut, and one of Boules research partners. “We have millions of tons of poultry waste each year, and there is no regulation on how to dispose of it. At the same time, we have the problem of energy production and demand. Employing this waste to solving that problem is very promising.”

Focusing on energy and advocacy:

Dubbed “the magic machine” by farm owners, Boules said the moniker shows there is a lot of work to be done towards raising awareness on generating green energy in Egypt.

“Farmers do not always have the awareness that their waste can be turned into electricity and that it will be worth the money to do so,” Boules added. “We want to eventually cover 90% of farmers’ energy needs which will attract more customers. Still, it takes a lot of education and awareness from our side to the farmers.”

Once the machine goes into commercial use, in the next few years, Boules estimates the system — which has a 25-year lifespan — will pay itself off within a decade. To help make the technology more affordable for mid and large-scale farmers they are targeting, Taqa Solutions has found partners who will provide loans to their customers with no initial payments for the first seven years, and just a three percent interest rate over that time.

There is also added value in the byproduct of waste digestion: one of the machine’s outputs is a fertile organic composter which farmers can use for their crops or sell to other farmers.

A passion for entrepreneurship, environment:

Boules showed an interest in biotechnology while studying pharmacy at Cairo University. Mostly, she was drawn to how bacteria could be used to turn waste into energy. During those school years, Boules was passionately interested in entrepreneurship and became the first female president of the university’s Social Entrepreneurship Association.

The desire to lead social change started when Boules found herself living just blocks from Tahrir Square and the ongoing Egyptian revolution. “When I joined the revolution, I really understood what diversity and social justice mean,” Boules said.

A public platform for change:

One of Boules’ most public opportunities to lead change came in 2013 when she was headhunted to be a contestant on El Mashrou3, the first reality TV show for young entrepreneurs in the MENA region. The show was like The Apprentice and Shark Tank combined, and Boules decked it out with 14 other Egyptian entrepreneurs, defending her business idea while completing a series of weekly challenges.

“At first I was very intimidated to join a TV show,” Boules remembered. “But the casting director said if I went on with my passion I would inspire Egypt’s youth who have ideas but do not know where to start.”

Inspire she did — after 12 weeks of competition, Boules won the competition and took home the seed investment needed to start Taqa Solutions. After the show, Boules embarked on a 10-city tour of Egypt, meeting young entrepreneurs and encouraging them to work towards greater community good. This included inspiring young women in particular to step forward and become a part of the green technology movement.

“Even though it is a progressive field and we are supposed to be surrounded by men who understand equality and the skills women bring to the table, that is not the case,” Boules said. “I want all woman working in green tech to take a step forward and say ‘hello, we are here, we are working on these projects and we do not need to be men in suits to drive change.’”

Next steps for Taqa Solutions:

Boules’ story is far from finished. Taqa Solutions’ anaerobic digestion machine is currently being tested at the American University in Cairo, and Boules anticipates it will be another six to nine months before they can move to the next step. The step denotes applying their lab and prototype experiments on a larger scale, and finding the investment needed to build a commercial unit.

Once it is ready to be commercially sold, Boules has the goal of bringing one farm a month onboard with their cutting edge technology. She hopes eventually sales will grow outside Egypt to other parts of the MENA region facing similar energy challenges.

In the meantime, Boules will continue to promote the green energy movement in Egypt. “For me, we need to produce green technology and conserve our natural resources, because very soon we will run out of them,” Boules said.

 

Photo credit: Taqa Solutions

Taqa Solutions Renewable energy and energy efficiency
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