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Student social entrepreneurs plan new company to bring biogas services to rural India

A team of students from the University of Minnesota believe they can build a sustainable business bringing biogas services to residents of rural India.

A 2007 report estimated that 82 percent of Indians rely on stoves that burn wood, dung, coal and other solid fuels--a major source of indoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. Solid fuels are responsible for 3.5 percent of disease in the subcontinent.

Since the 1980s, the Indian government has invested in hundreds of thousands of biogas digesters, which turn cow dung into clean-burning cooking fuel, but it's estimated that nearly half of them no longer work. The student team wants to get to work refurbishing that infrastructure with a new company called BioServ.

The students are collaborating with another group from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, on a business plan that would help families purchase digesters at-cost with a lease-to-own financing model. BioServ's revenue would come from a small monthly fee it would charge for repair and maintenance of the equipment by locally hired technicians.

Most of the cross-continent collaboration so far has taken place over Facebook and on Google Chat exchanges and Skype calls. This summer the students will work face-to-face in Minnesota, then India, to refine their business plan before seeking financing and firing up a pilot project in the fall.

The concept won the energy division last month in the 2010 Acara Challenge, an annual student social entrepreneurship contest.

"It's extremely exciting," said Judd Eder, one of four Minnesota students involved in the project. "This is the first time for me being a part of something this multiculturally dynamic. It's been really exciting and really fun."

Source: Judd Eder, BioServ
Writer: Dan Haugen
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