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Carbon Masters

Al Gore’s climate change film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ really struck a chord with Kevin Houston. So much so, that he left a successful corporate job to pursue a career in low carbon. He met Som Narayan on the University of Edinburgh’s Carbon Management Masters programme and they launched Carbon Masters in 2014.

Now their joint business venture is helping transform India’s use of renewable gas. Here Kevin talks about the their game-changing product, Carbonlites, and what’s next for the business.

What does your company do?

We essentially take organic material and put it into an anaerobic digester to create biogas. We mainly use food waste or agricultural waste, like chicken or cow dung.

We then take out the impurities and compress the gas into a cylinder. By doing this we’re able to reach a purity level of around 92 per cent methane. At that sort of concentration, it’s just like compressed natural gas. So restaurants and hotels in Bangalore can use it instead of LPG (liquid petroleum gas).

What’s your product’s unique selling point?

Carbonlites performs better for chefs. With LPG the pressure drops with use, which is a problem when you’re a restaurant on a busy Saturday night. With Carbonlites you have constant pressure – so chefs love to cook with it, and it saves on costs.

Most importantly for us, when you burn Carbonlites it’s carbon neutral. It only releases the amount of CO2 that was in the original organic material. That means it doesn’t add to carbon stocks, or cause climate change. The waste we’re using would otherwise go to a landfill and release harmful methane, so it’s a win-win.

“With Carbonlites we’re solving a pollution issue, we’re solving a waste issue, and we’re solving a climate change issue. We could potentially revolutionise the whole biogas sector in India.” Carbon Masters co-founder, Kevin Houston

What was your lightbulb moment?

I visited Bangalore and realised that they use thousands of telecom towers running on diesel as their backup power source. Som and I figured there had to be a better way to generate energy without emitting carbon emissions. And that’s how we came up with the idea of bottled biogas.

How has your business grown since then?

In the early days we used three small trucks to take our gas to clients. Eventually we persuaded Mahindra & Mahindra, a major Indian automobile company, to invest in building a large-scale biogas plant in Bangalore. We’ve now signed an eight-year agreement to operate and sell the gas output from there. Once we’re up and running, we’ll produce about a tonne of gas a day.

What role did the University of Edinburgh and ECCI play in your success?

The impact of the University of Edinburgh in our story is huge. It’s where I met my business partner, after all. Later on I had an office at ECCI. It was fantastic being surrounded by other people trying to start low carbon businesses. ECCI has become so much more now, bringing together researchers, businesses and governments to drive carbon innovation.

What’s next for Carbon Masters?

We want to make Carbonlites the biggest renewable energy brand in India. They generate a huge amount of municipal and agricultural organic waste that we can use to produce renewable energy.

We’ve created 15 jobs for young Indian people so far. It feels good to be making a difference and it all started on the Carbon Management Masters programme at ECCI.

“I said recently that it’s taken us eight long years to become an overnight success! It’s been a hard slog trying to raise money but it’s amazing some of the investors we’ve now got.” Carbon Masters co-founder, Kevin Houston

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