Toilets, cookers and compost
Katharina Prost aims to revolutionize daily life in Ethiopia with her spin-off, ClimEtSan, while also addressing climate protection.
Her business formula – characterized by three elements: toilets, cookers, and compost – is set to make a meaningful impact. Prost, a soil scientist, embarked on this journey while working on her doctoral thesis about biomarkers in archaeological samples, but she soon felt the urge to address more pressing global issues: "When considering the world's pressing issues, that seemed too distant in the grand scheme of things."
One of the most urgent problems she aims to tackle is global nutrition: approximately 768 million people suffered from hunger in 2021 worldwide. The situation is severe, especially in Africa. Political conflicts and the effects of climate change have severely affected food security in many African countries, including Ethiopia. With around 85 percent of the Ethiopian population dependent on smallholder agriculture, finding effective solutions is paramount.
An eco-friendly and highly efficient fertilizer
To improve the situation for these communities, Prost and her colleagues from the Jülich Institute for Bio- and Geosciences have conceived a brilliant idea for a local circular economy. Their approach involves starting the cycle at the end of the nutrition chain - with human excrement. By collecting and composting human waste along with straw and vegetable waste in dry toilets, they create a potent and ecological fertilizer. To speed up the composting process, they utilize biochar obtained from clay cooking stoves.
This innovative approach addresses two critical issues simultaneously. First, it helps combat soil depletion, which is a significant problem in Ethiopia. Traditional mineral fertilizers are expensive and unaffordable for most farmers, making the cheap and effective human fertilizer a game-changer in making farmland more fertile.
An encouraging bonus: improved air quality and reduced deforestation
The second positive outcome of this initiative is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality. Composting the feces kills pathogens and releases fewer greenhouse gases, contributing to climate protection. Furthermore, replacing open fires with clay stoves significantly reduces wood consumption and indoor air pollution, benefiting people's health and curbing deforestation.
"Here's my opportunity to leave a positive impact for my daughter's generation and make the world a better place."
Dr. Katharina Prost
ClimEtSan On The Ground: unraveling the spin-off journey of Katharina Prost
That's the theory, but does it translate into practice? Since 2017, the researchers have been putting their approach to the test in Ethiopia, collaborating closely with Ethiopian colleagues. Their experimentation takes place on a test farm located at the Hawassa University campus in the country's south, as well as various sites in the capital city, Addis Ababa. The results have been promising. However, despite the positive outcomes, the project is scheduled to conclude in 2021 due to the lack of follow-up funding. But for Katharina Prost, giving up is simply not an option. Instead, she takes the knowledge gained and establishes the startup ClimEtSan On The Ground, carrying forward the venture.
When it comes to effecting real change, Prost's company actively engages with the local community. Their efforts include supporting farmers in transitioning to ecological and more productive agricultural practices. Additionally, Prost extends help to women managing sanitary facilities with dry toilets, assisting them in setting up small businesses like juice bars to ensure sustainability. Moreover, the biochar from the families to whom she sells wood-saving stoves is bought back by Prost, contributing to reforestation efforts in the region. The long-term vision involves financing the entire initiative through the sale of CO2 certificates.
Sustainable development goals of the United Nations in focus
The spin-off claims that its concept aligns with 14 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Prost emphasizes that the impact goes beyond climate concerns, also positively influencing the environment and living conditions in the partner country. It's an opportunity to make the world a slightly better place, one stove and one toilet at a time.
Image: Katharina Prost
Nutrition is at the heart of SenseUp, the innovative spin-off from Jülich. Led by Georg Schaumann, the team has harnessed groundbreaking technologies set to revolutionize the food and beverage production.
At the core of their research lies the reliance on bacteria, those tiny champions of productivity. These microorganisms have the astonishing ability to generate essential building blocks, ranging from proteins to RNA, forming the foundation for a diverse array of products. Among the exciting ventures, SenseUp is currently focusing on RNA active substances, derived from their microbe factory. These substances are deployed for various applications, including biological pest control in agriculture.
One remarkable feature of RNA as a crop protection agent is its targeted efficacy without leaving a trace of pollution in the soil or groundwater. A remarkable sustainable alternative to conventional chemicals or genetically modified plants.
So, why entrust microbes with the task of RNA production? The answer is simplicity itself: the process is highly adaptable, cost-effective, and paves the way for more efficient manufacturing processes on a grand scale.
Imagine: Philana van Summeren-Wesenhagen, Fabio Paltenghi, Georg-Schaumann (right to left) - Senseup Biotech
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