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Heating up the biomass stove market

Virendra Pandit | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 01, 2015

Safe cooking Neha Juneja, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer,Greenway Grameen Infra

Greenway Grameen manufactures cleaner, smarter cooking equipment

For this gritty daughter of an Indian Army officer, 2007 was a year of hope. India’s economy was red hot. She and her three friends had spring in their feet when they decided to start a firm to provide futures and options prices to retailers, obtained SEBI nod and tied up with the BSE and the NSE. They were all set to launch this online venture…

Then came the 2008 global recession and economic meltdown, which put paid to their dreams. Undeterred, they scouted for another opportunity. The quartet was ready to dream again…

They toyed with various ideas, including renewable energy what with the Central government aggressively promoting the sector. Soon, they discovered a viable business in biomass cook stove and set up a factory at Vadodara in Gujarat.

Eco-friendly

Leading the company is Neha Juneja, 30, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Greenway Grameen Infra, which manufactures biomass cook stoves. She says their stoves emit 70 per cent less smoke and use 65 per cent less fuel than traditional mud cook stoves.

According to her, studies showed that nearly three billion people globally cook with solid biomass fuels. In India, nearly 850 million people, or 165 million households, depend on this traditional fuel. Burning biomass fuel (wood, cow dung and agro-waste) in open fires or traditional mud ‘chulhas’ (stoves) is inefficient and lets off a lot of smoke and soot.

Due to this indoor cooking, according to an OXFAM study, 70 per cent of women exposed to this pollution and passive smoking, eventually suffer from lung cancer.

“We thought we should do something about it, and found in it an opportunity for our career as well. Thus were born our cleaner and smarter biomass cook stoves,” she says.

Her co-founder Ankit Mathur had studied at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. They approached IIM-A’s technology business incubator, Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) for help and got seed funding of ₹20 lakh each from CIIE and an angel investor. Subsequently, the Clinton Global Initiative, under its Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves, infused ₹1 crore. They rented an industrial shed to set up the factory.

Greenway Grameen Infra has 62 employees, including seven in Mumbai, and by the year-end, plans to scale up to 100. The venture sells nearly 2.6 lakh stoves annually and can make up to eight lakh stoves.

Neha does not see any immediate need for expanding capacity and feels their present factory can keep them going till 2017.

Two models of stoves

She says that in India, nearly 150 million households living below-the-poverty-line (BPL) need such efficient and cheap cook stoves. The two models of stoves are priced at ₹1,399 and ₹2,499 apiece.

In some States, Greenway Grameen has tied up with banks, micro-financers and NGOs for selling in rural areas. Some States also subsidise the stoves for tribal beneficiaries.

The venture now plans to introduce other appliances, mainly for the poor and those living in rural areas. These include a stove-cum-inverter and a water chiller. Neha says the market response has been encouraging. In Kerala, for instance, many women bought the stoves by paying only ₹65 a week to the micro-financing institutions.

Somebody in Mexico read about them, and now they are selling there about 2,000 units a month.

Interestingly, Karnataka, India’s technology capital, is Greenway Grameen’s biggest market. Even a smaller State like Mizoram has a market of about 500 stoves. But in Bihar we find it difficult as the local fuel of rice husk burns faster in biomass stove and emits little energy, says Neha.

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Published on June 01, 2015
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