Established in 2010, Sistema.bio specialises in providing sustainable energy solutions to small-scale farmers worldwide. The company’s core focus is on creating and distributing biogas digesters, which are innovative devices that transform organic waste, such as agricultural residues and animal manure, into biogas and biofertiliser. The biogas generated by these digesters offers a clean and renewable energy source for cooking, heating and electricity generation. This technology not only reduces farmers’ dependence on traditional fossil fuels such as firewood and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), but also enhances environmental well-being by curbing methane emissions and promoting sustainable waste management.
Sistema.bio operates in various countries, including Mexico, India and Kenya. The company closely collaborates with farmers, governments and organisations to foster clean energy adoption and work towards a more sustainable future. In 2018, the company launched operations in Maharashtra, India. The state was strategically chosen for its central location, logistical advantages and efficient service potential across multiple regions. The selection of Maharashtra was also influenced by its proximity to the port city of Mumbai, facilitating smoother import and export of the company’s products.
Sistema.bio recently opened a large biogas plant production facility in Chakan, Maharashtra. The facility spans an area of 130,000 square feet and has an annual production capacity of 100,000 prefabricated biogas plants, as compared to the previous facility’s production capacity of 30,000 units. The total cost of the facility is approximately Rs 150 million, which includes capital investment, machinery procurement and operational expenses. Presently, the factory operates at a daily capacity of 360 units, with plans to double this output through automation in the future.
I recently visited the company’s manufacturing facility in Pune and had the opportunity to interview Piyush Sohani, Managing Director, Sistema.bio. This article covers the company’s core product offerings, its endeavours in the renewable energy sector, expansion and partnership strategies, as well as its future plans…
Sistema.bio’s technology is a hybrid biogas reactor designed to manage waste from animal farms. It generates biogas and biofertiliser by fermenting a mixture of manure and water. Its features are:
- Durability: The reactor is built with durable, UV-resistant geomembrane and robust polyvinyl chloride and high density polyethylene piping, ensuring a long lifespan even in challenging rural conditions.
- Prefabrication: The system comes as a complete kit with easily replaceable components, designed for efficient packaging, transport and installation. It has been subjected to rigorous quality control standards to ensure longevity.
- Size options: The reactor is available in sizes from 6 to 200 m3 to accommodate various farm sizes.
- Modular design: The reactor’s modular design enables easy interconnection for increased treatment capacity, adapting to different needs and scenarios.
- User-friendliness: Anyone on the farm can operate and perform simple maintenance tasks, promoting hassle-free daily use.
Sistema.bio’s vision of making a significant impact on millions of farmers in India has driven them to adopt a strategic partnership approach. Their strategy involves collaboration with organisations with extensive networks and direct access to farmers. Sohani says, “An essential collaboration involves our partnership with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), which granted approval and incorporated Sistema.bio into their National Biogas programme in December 2022.”
In February 2023, the company also established a strategic partnership with the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). The primary objective of this partnership is to improve the socio-economic stature of dairy farmers, particularly smallholder women dairy farmers, through the usage of biogas plants. Sistema.bio, through carbon financing, will provide affordable modern flexi biogas plants to dairy farmers in NDDB’s rural network. The plan is to reach out to over 25,000 farmers with biogas plants this year, with the objective to serve 300,000 dairy farms in the coming 2-3 years. NDDB will also promote the use of bio-slurry, produced directly or as organic fertiliser through the sale of slurry-based products for agriculture in an enterprise mode. “NDDB, with its expansive network, serves as a crucial collaborator for the company, reaching out to 17 million farmers and forming a significant partnership,” says Sohani.
Additionally, enduring partnerships with entities such as Infosys Limited, the Infosys Foundation, Nestlé, and other international corporations have woven a fabric of shared vision and impact for Sistema.bio. The company has also partnered with select private dairies that engage with thousands of farmers daily, effectively reducing their promotional and rural marketing costs. Through these collaborations, the company has successfully executed their carbon programme, demonstrating how partnerships seamlessly merge corporate sustainability goals with rural empowerment.
India’s extensive agricultural potential encompasses 17 million dairy farmers, which is a significant segment of the population. For Sistema.bio, their mission has expanded beyond dairy farming, acknowledging the fact that over 60 per cent of India’s rural population still relies on firewood and LPG for cooking. Tackling this energy deficit became the company’s key driving force.
Biogas digesters, tailored to dairy farmers, eliminate the need for LPG and firewood, yielding a plethora of benefits. Their commitment to inclusivity extends even further. Recognising the diverse financial capacities of farmers, they have pioneered innovative financing methods, partnering with governmental bodies and corporations that share net-zero aspirations.
Product cost and applicable subsidies
Regarding product costing, Sohani says, “Though the standard product cost ranges from Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 for a family-sized system, innovative climate financing mechanisms significantly alleviate this burden.” Affordability is primarily achieved through two primary approaches. The first method leverages a government initiative, wherein the MNRE approval includes the company in its subsidy programme. This initiative involves a subsidy of Rs 15,000 from the MNRE, coupled with region-specific state contributions ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000. These direct financial injections empower beneficiaries. The second approach focuses on climate financing initiatives. Through collaborations with net-zero-focused corporations, Sistema.bio tailors its programmes to align with emission reduction objectives. The corporations allocate funds that subsidise energy solution costs for farmers. By participating in the carbon programme, these corporations claim emission reductions within their sustainability network, fostering both farmer welfare and corporate environmental goals. This vision takes form through their carbon programme, which enables access to reduced-cost technology ranging from Rs 6,000 to Rs 9,000, based on region, in partnership with organisations like the NDDB. This empowerment simultaneously aligns with environmental preservation and rural livelihood enhancement.
“In urban and rural contexts alike, a typical family consumes one LPG cylinder monthly. The introduction of a biogas digester eliminates dependency on LPG for rural households, resulting in substantial monthly savings. A single LPG cylinder, valued at approximately Rs 1,200, translates to a significant economic relief. This relief endures throughout the biodigester’s 10-year warranty period, matching its lifespan,” he says. This payback period of six to eight months not only fosters sustainable and cleaner energy practices but also delivers tangible financial relief to families in both urban and rural settings.
The path ahead
Discussing future prospects, Sohani says, “While reaching 50,000 installed biodigesters took five years, our current plan is to install 40,000 units within a single year, showcasing rapid acceleration. With a manufacturing capacity of 100,000 units per year, we are poised to meet the growing demand.” Looking ahead to 2030, their vision extends to making an impact on a million households and numerous villages across India, encompassing urban and rural areas. The expansion plan includes neighbouring South Asian countries, East and West African nations, and select Latin American countries.
Sistema.bio’s mission is to address energy poverty, improve farmers’ livelihoods and promote sustainable agriculture by providing them with affordable and accessible biogas solutions. By combining innovation, strategic partnerships and inclusive financing mechanisms, Sistema.bio has paved the way for cleaner energy solutions in rural India. Their journey is a testament to the power of technology to bridge gaps, foster collaboration and make tangible impacts on lives and environments. Through their biodigesters, Sistema.bio is lighting up a path towards a greener and more sustainable future for India and beyond.
By Anusshka Duggal