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Waste solutions based in the community

Sandra Sassow explains why the recent Clean and Cool entrepreneurial mission to Brazil could be big business for the UK’s cleantech companies

After almost three weeks in South America at the end of last year, including a week in Brazil as part of the Clean and Cool entrepreneurial trade mission, I can report that the opportunities for UK cleantech companies in Latin America are huge.

Each year the Technology Strategy Board enables a small group of young companies with high growth potential to understand and access an overseas market where their technology is a good fit.

The previous year, SEaB Energy was selected to participate in the Clean and Cool Mission to San Francisco, US, which is now helping us accelerate our growth there. We were fortunate again in 2013 to be chosen as one of 17 of the most promising UK cleantech companies to travel to Brazil to meet with potential investors, partners and resellers in Rio and Sao Paulo.

Brazil is firmly under the world’s spotlight as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. But is now only slowly starting to address some of the fundamental infrastructure issues that are causing so much civil unrest.

The country is expanding rapidly with an ever growing, upwardly mobile population. During the past six years, for example, its middle class population has grown by 24 million people and a relatively new, upper middle class has grown by 27 million.

The result is a surge in urban expansion. But while the wealth of the nation is becoming more equally shared, there is still a significant part of the population which has no direct access to electricity, running water, waste collection or proper sanitation.

It is estimated that Brazil produces 29 million tonnes of organic waste each year with roughly half of this sent to open, unregulated dumps and the rest landfilled. The situation in the favelas, the myriad shanty towns, is, on the whole, even worse, with very little in the way of waste management. This results in rubbish contaminating streets and waterways.

Using the impetus of hosting the world’s two biggest sporting events, the country is now investing massively in technology to improve the lives of its citizens. It is also introducing legislation which will come into play in 2014 and force it municipalities to stop the unregulated dumping of waste – with the mayors being held directly accountable.

There are huge opportunities to eliminate this waste stream by converting it into energy, particularly in areas that are off-grid – which, in Brazil’s case, could remove almost 6 million inhabitants from fuel poverty.

The cost of laying down infrastructure for a country the size of Brazil is hugely prohibitive which means it is heading in a different direction to the rest of the developed world and is instead looking for decentralised solutions that enable local communities to make their own energy.

And this is precisely why the potential investors, partners and customers we met were so receptive to our highly-mobile micro power plants that are easy to transport, require no infrastructure and can be monitored remotely. Our Flexibuster, for example, is housed in a standard shipping container and converts food and biowastes into electricity, heat and a nutrient rich fertiliser.

Such has been the interest that we will now be looking to establish a manufacturing facility in Brazil this year, in partnership with a local distributor, that will serve a huge market crying out for solutions that can solve both their energy and waste challenges.

Sandra Sassow is chief executive of SEaB Energy

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