International Energy Company That Makes Gas From Rice Husks Moves to CSU's Powerhouse

Published Jan. 24, 2018

By Pat Ferrier for Coloradoan

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An international energy company that provides low-cost electricity to rural villages in Asia and Africa has opened its U.S. headquarters at CSU's Powerhouse in Fort Collins.

Husk Power Systems is among 15 companies working in the Powerhouse's Resident Enterprise Partners Zone. With $20 million in equity financing from Shell, it plans to ramp up growth to develop an estimated $190 billion grid market in India, Tanzania and other locations, said Bryan Willson, executive director of the CSU Energy Institute.

Husk got its name because it used a thermal process to generate a gas from rice husks that could be used in engines to generate power. When the 10-year-old company first started, batteries were expensive and people needed light at night.

The company now develops and operates small power plants that use solar energy, batteries and agricultural waste to create affordable electricity.

Husk CEO Manoj Sinha said developing countries in Asia and Africa spend about $60 billion a year on kerosene, diesel and even candles "to get barely six to seven hours" of power.

"Think about the families and how many lanterns are burning and how much soot they are producing," he said.

Mini grids can help solve the problem, he said. "Our priority is the local customer within a couple miles" of the mini-grid.

The technology is transformational, Willson said. Creating reliable 24/7 power allows kids to do school work at night, thus improving education; allows incomes to rise when factories can stay open longer; and increases health by allowing vaccines to be refrigerated.

"There's a whole host of reasons why electrification is one of the building blocks of development," Willson said.

While Husk's systems are not in place in the U.S., Willson said its approach "could potentially be applicable to accelerate recovery in vulnerable areas like Puerto Rico," which saw much of its power grid go down during Hurricane Maria.

Husk also has offices in India and Tanzania. Sinha, the chief financial and chief technical officers will be located in Fort Collins, as well as administrative staff. Husk employs about 200 workers in India and Africa and expects to have about 10 in Fort Collins.

Sinha said the company is poised to grow rapidly over the next four years and could eventually provide enough renewable power to eliminate 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

The company chose Fort Collins, Willson said, because the city is "becoming the center of the universe" in developing access to alternative energy development. "It's pretty cool we are getting the critical mass to the point where we are attracting people like Husk.

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Jul. 19, 2018

Husk Power Systems and First Solar are helping India achieve complete household electrification by December 2018 by using a hybrid system. Solar power provides electricity and charges batteries for nighttime use during the day. A biomass gasification system is used as a backup.