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Daily CSR
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Farm to Flame Energy delves into clean energy tech


Farm to Flame Energy dives into clean energy solutions, and off-grid living.

You'll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2022 winners have been announced. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is a cash-awarding online competition for early-stage tech entrepreneurs who solve the world's most difficult problems. Since its inception in 2017, the competition has distributed $3.25 million USD to 78 startups from 25 countries.

We can't wait to tell you more about the 2022 winning teams, who are tackling some of the world's most pressing issues with technology-based solutions.

We introduced five new Climate Impact and Regeneration prizes totaling $300,000 USD in response to the growing urgency to reverse climate change. These awards recognize solutions that reduce or remove greenhouse gases (GHG) from the environment, as well as those that regenerate depleted ecosystems.

Farm to Flame Energy is the runner-up for the Climate Impact & Regeneration Prize, receiving $50,000 USD. They are based in the United States and are developing electricity generators that use biomass waste as fuel. I recently spoke with Stefano Alva, CFO of Farm to Flame Energy, who has a background in energy science, technology, and policy. He went into greater detail about his team's innovative solution.

What are the issues is your technology solution trying to resolve?
To address the issue of energy poverty. Globally, 700 million people still lack access to a reliable electricity grid. Because of this lack of access, they must seek alternative sources of electricity. Unfortunately, for those who live off the grid, the most popular and convenient solution is a diesel generator. Diesel generators are therefore costly and polluting. The fumes produced by these diesel generators kill 1,500 people in Nigeria each year. It's a major issue that primarily affects underserved communities.

Could you elaborate on the solution?
We created a bio-generator designed to generate off-grid energy. We convert mixed-wood waste, landscaping waste, and agricultural residues into a carbon-rich powder, which we then burn to generate high-thermal-efficiency heat. Heat with high thermal efficiency allows us to extract a large portion of the energy contained within the biomass. The heat is then used to generate steam, which powers an alternator and a steam generation unit. The innovation is in our ability to use mixed biomass waste to generate smokeless and odourless heat.

We're collaborating with Think and Grow Farms in New Jersey to test our bio-generator, which will allow them to stop using fossil fuels and source their power directly from our unit. Think and Grow Farms helps many local farmers by teaching them how to transition away from traditional farming and into more profitable vertical farming. Think and Grow Farms hopes to be off the grid within a year, and that using alternative energy will help them meet their commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency.

Do elaborate on your innovative solutions and how it differs from the competition.
When most people think of renewable energy, they think of solar and wind power, both of which are excellent solutions that I support. The problem is that they have created an intermittency gap, which means that when solar and wind energy are generated, the power is not constant. It works in some situations, but it is not suitable for people who need to run their businesses around the clock.

Having batteries, for example, is one way to bridge the intermittency gap. However, introducing batteries to achieve 24-hour power becomes prohibitively expensive, costing three to four times what it costs to get electricity from the grid. What distinguishes us from other renewable solutions is our ability to provide affordable and renewable energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The inspirations that led to the creation of this solution?
Will McKnight, Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), and Kwaku Jyamfi, CEO, founded Farm to Flame Energy. They met at Syracuse University and decided to commercialize Will's grandfather, James McKnight's, patented combustion process. At Carnegie Mellon University, I met Kwaku and was recruited to join the team. We were all working at Carnegie Mellon's Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, which assisted us in obtaining our first-generation unit, a 280-watt unit capable of lighting two lightbulbs.

Costa Rica, where I was born, is my personal inspiration because it is a green country focused on renewables. Their energy is entirely renewable, and I grew up with the naive belief that the world was moving in this direction.

When I moved to the United States, it became clear to me that there was still a lot of work to be done and that I could put my effort and dedication toward giving a little bit of Costa Rica to the rest of the world. Aside from that, I believe that the best gift you can give someone is access to electricity.

There are these off-grid communities all over the world, and having access to electricity is the first step toward having access to other necessities like healthcare, sanitation, better jobs, and education. Access to electricity can completely transform a person's life and the future of their families.

How Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge will help in advance the business?
We are currently putting our first commercial unit through its paces. This prize will help us successfully test this commercial unit and pave the way for us to deploy more units in the future. We are grateful for this award because it came at an important time when we have our first client who is ready, happy, and excited to see our technology deployed, and the funds will help us serve that client and demonstrate those client benefits.

How will you channelize the prize money?
It will be used to transport our generation unit from our manufacturing facility to the client location. We will also use some of the funds to purchase the necessary equipment and hire someone to operate and test the machinery. We require this testing to obtain certifications proving that our technology meets the required electricity generation standards.

Your advice for other social entrepreneurs
In the startup world, there's a common misconception that you have to follow the money. I would advise people to reconsider and instead focus on the impact. If you can develop technology that improves people's lives and the environment, the rest will follow.