Ben Jeffreys is the CEO of ATEC International, which supports households across Asia & Africa to transition to modern, decarbonized cooking through its patented IoT stove products - delivering cost efficiency to households, data-validated carbon credits to net-zero partners and addressing the 4 billion people who lack access to clean, modern cooking. After moving his family to Cambodia in 2015 to commercialize ATEC’s biodigester prototype, the winning product of the Google Impact Challenge, into a social enterprise, he has helped ATEC become a global leader in clean cooking it's two flagship on-grid and off-grid products delivering data-driven scalable impact not only for cooking, but data validation of carbon reduction as well. ATEC is aiming to help 800 million households to offset more emissions than the global airline industry whilst saving the lives of millions of women each year who traditionally cook with wood.
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Number one, decarbonize our energy solution for our energy grid, but number two, that'll be the framework for the next great evolution, which is then basically energy becoming so cheap and so easy to produce that we will have abundant energy for all.
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Episode 79 - Ben Jeffreys
[00:00:00] Brandon Stover: Hey, you welcome to evolve the show to help you become a hero and solve the world's greatest challenges. I'm your host, Brandon Stover, founder of Plato university, and I interview social innovators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers about the global problems we face and the solutions they have created to solve.
Today's challenge, clean cooking and climate change. Our guest is Ben Jeffries, the CEO of AEC international, which supports households across Asia and Africa to transition to modern decarbonized cooking through its patented internet of things, stove products, delivering cost efficiency to households, data validated carbon credits to net zero partners and addressing the 4 billion people who lack access to clean, modern cooking.
After moving his family to Cambodia in 2015 to commercialize ATECs bio digester prototype, which was also the winning product of the Google impact challenge. He turned it into a social enterprise and has helped. ATEC become a global leader in clean cooking. With its two flagship on grid and off grid products, delivering data driven, scalable impact, not only for cooking, but data validation of carbon reduction as well.
And today Ben is going to share how AEC is aiming to help 800 million households to offset more emissions than the global airline industry while saving the lives of millions of women each year, Who traditionally cook with wood.
So, where I'd like to start is there's 4 billion people, which is half the global population that has a lack of access to clean modern cooking services. Explain to us just how detrimental this problem is.
[00:01:40] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah, thanks, Brandon. And, and it's a pleasure to be here. So thanks for having me on yeah, this is a, a very interesting problem that I think a lot of people sort of in the, in the developed world, aren't aware of that majority or majority of households in, in the development world still cook with wood.
And. I mean, that's something they've done for a very, very long time. And we used to do in the, the developed world a couple hundred years ago as well. But it actually has some very severe health impacts, particularly on women who, who tend to bear the brunt of most of, of that cooking duty.
It's effectively the equivalent of smoking around a pack of cigarettes a day cooking with wood. So you tend to see all kinds of issues around simple thing or not simple, but things like cataracts in the eyes other sort of eye related issues, smoke exposure through to effectively lung cancer and other lung related diseases as well.
So yeah, it tends to have a very big cost, particularly on women. The world bank has. It's about 1.8 trillion per year in health costs. Yeah. And at the same time cooking all that wood actually means a lot of carbon emissions as well. So cooking with wood actually, yeah. Contributes more to climate change than the global airline industry.
For example, so it's this huge environmental problem
[00:02:46] Brandon Stover: yeah, it seems like it's pulling on a lot of different strings, both, you know, healthcare from the climate perspective and the economic perspective a large problem to be solved. When you and your team were approaching this problem, you could choose from a number of different problems that, you know, you could have tried to address agriculture, sustainable farming, whole bunch of different things.
Walk us through your decision process for choosing a high impact problem that you could actually have a significant role in solving.
[00:03:17] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah, that's a very accurate question to exactly the process we went through. We literally sat back and, and part of that was, was me as well of going okay, well, where could we have the greatest possible impact in the world, basically. And for us interested in the early days, the, the first product we started with, which is a, a buy gas product that converts animal waste to like manure into gas and fertilizer for, for the households.
That you could say that's an agricultural thing. You could say it's a cooking thing et cetera. And, and we went through this process and it was interesting. So at that time, I, I was kind of trying to figure out, okay, well, how do we do this as a team and, and to come to the right decision. And it was at that time, I can't remember.
Who met, who recommended? I think it was Beck in our team. She was like, I have a reader for these couple of books. One of them being Jim Collins. Good to great. Which I dunno if, if you've got across that, but a fantastic seminar business strategy book. And one of the things he talks in there is the hedgehog concept, which is pretty much the question questions you said, you said is like what, what can you be good at?
What has the creates the most value? And then what drives, what he calls your economic engine as in, can you actually do it in a way that generates revenue and therefore scale, and then your hedgehog as such that thing you focus on is that one in the middle. So we went through this process. It was about a year long of strategic discussions with the team of, okay, well, where exactly do we wanna focus?
Where can we add that value? And it kind of came down to two things One thing with two different views. One is that this cooking problem is the biggest problem we can see that is technically solvable. It's literally, if you get this bit of hardware into the household, you can that, that effectively solves the issue of people that are using it.
So it's a, there's many big problems out there, but this was a very technically solvable problem with the, with the, with the rapid hardware. And then the second thing we saw as well is our role in that is yes, it's to get that hardware piece in there, that we can do a lot of work on the, the software, the data backend to then do that in the best way possible by making this device, not just to standalone stove, but then connect it in with things like carbon credits, which I can explain a bit later and other international capital that basically makes, makes these more affordable, easier to access and more attractive for people to make that switch of cooking.
[00:05:37] Brandon Stover: When you guys were doing this year long process, was there any specific ways you were like researching each of the problems to come to the conclusion? Like this one actually is solvable and we should focus on this one besides, you know, a different one.
[00:05:50] Ben Jeffreys: We had a bit of a different experience because we, we already understood several of those problems particularly, cause we kind of wanted to look at sort of households and how we could impact the people on the ground, living in these areas. And we, we almost had a bit of the opposite of, we knew multiple problems really, really well.
So we already had a pretty good grasp, but there was really a question of focus from there. So, and that was kind of the problem we were having is we were, there was lots of things that we could pursue ended. We were kind of getting a diffusion of effort. So it was actually figuring out what not to do.
So it's the sort of more important step at that stage.
[00:06:29] Brandon Stover: Was there any major, like macro trends going on as well that were kind of pointing you to, this is the correct time to implement this solution.
[00:06:37] Ben Jeffreys: one of the biggest trends as such was if you look at countries like Cambodia and Bangladesh over the last 10 years, they've gone from like, you know, half, half the country's population having electricity. It's now up, up to almost a hundred percent of households having access to electricity, which is a huge developmental milestone.
And so that was a real driver for us of going okay, well with this, basically this ability to get electrons into the household in a very, very cheap and effective way we could actually utilize that sort of energy supply to then bring that into cooking. So we have this electric cook, this high efficiency, electric cook stove option.
that that was probably one of the biggest ones we saw was these households were fundamentally changing. And how could, how could we jump on the back of that?
[00:07:23] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Well, let's talk about the two products that you have first. You have the bio digester and then the second one's the electromagnetic induction stove. Can you explain each of these products and kind of how they work and why they're a better alternative to the cooking methods with wood?
[00:07:39] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah.
So the first one the buy gas product, which is the one we originally started with in Cambodia is, is just a, a brilliant product for the right?
household. So basically it's, it's like if you think of one of our rain water tanks we have say in America or, or Australia one of those modern ones they're made out of material called LL D P quite a robust material.
And with those basically, rather than putting water in, you take your, your animal and household waste. So it can be the say typically it's the cow manures, the most common one, but then you can throw in your kitchen waste, agricultural green waste, cetera. So you put it into the system and then it's basically like a giant cow stomach.
So it's got the same bacteria there. That's inside a cow's stomach that basically break it down into an organic fertilizer. So you get about 20 tons of organic fertilizer per year at the system. And then at the same time you get about. It's about one, 1,300 to 1,800 liters of, of biogas per day, which is equivalent to sort of two to four hours of cooking time per day at the system.
So in our system's quite sort of unique in the way that it works. That basically as, as the waste is put in it creates pressure, which means that you can just switch on your guests like this. And you, you get gas just like you would for an LG cooked stove. And so, so we sell out with a, a double stove.
We actually also have had a rice cooker in the past as well, which is a pretty important thing in the, in the markets where we work as well. So yeah, so that, that basically just means they have free renewable gas. For cooking. It also reduces carbon emissions as well. And then you get this fertilizer as well, which could increase crop from anywhere from up to 30%, basically as well.
So it's a great product for the right type of household, which is a small scale farming household, which is maybe sort of five to 10% of households. Then the rest of the households that then led us to the question, which goes back to what you were saying before about this, this strategic decision point was okay.
Well, that's great. But what about that other 90%? What is the next best solution for them? If they don't have the livestock or the farm set up, et cetera. And that's when we looked at everything from LPG to ethanol stoves et cetera. And we decided that well, with this incoming grid, this high efficiency induction cook stove which is the one that needs like special pots.
I don't know if you've ever used it in, in America, but it's it's a, it's a great technology to use. I Bosch system my house we run it off our solar. It's fantastic. So we created a, a version of that. That's like a, a tabletop version for, for these countries. And so, yeah, and that's about compared to say, if you're gonna use gas in these countries, it's about 50% of the running cost. It's safer, it's cheaper. And then we have this carbon credit component. So for both products after that as well,
[00:10:16] Brandon Stover: And because most of these households are now on the electrical grid. It's not pulling too much from that portion.
[00:10:24] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah, it's, it is actually a really interesting question. And this is one of the challenges, and I think we're seeing I was having a, a chat with someone the other day in California, and she was saying like, they've had issues. But more due to bushfires and stuff, but with brownouts and, and stuff like that, this is a, a concern in some of these markets is they're investing billions of dollars in this grid electrification.
So part of that is increasing power generation capacity in countries where we work that's can be a combination of things. Hydroelectricity is really common in, in Asia, which is, is really good from a renewable energy perspective. But at the same time, they need to be investing in the, the quality of, of basically all the wiring for the grid.
So, and that tends to be the part that's a, a little bit of a it's. It's not where it should be quite often the time it's usually you don't have enough. It's not that you don't have. Electricity it's that your infrastructure to get that electricity to the household, there'll be somewhere along there.
That's basically not performing as well as possible. So yeah, so, so that tends to be the main challenge Right.
now. I mean, they they're investing the government's billions of dollars in solving this at this stage. But yeah, it's, it's something also our stove has the ability. You can remotely monitor the electricity usage, so we're gonna start working with group providers to help them understand, okay, who's cooking when and can we do off peak discounts on, on cooking, et cetera to shift some of that load around as well.
[00:11:44] Brandon Stover: Amazing. Yeah, we'll get into a little bit about the sensors and what you guys are doing with the data later on. But could you explain to our listeners your guys' impact flywheel and how it works and why you believe it's the key to solving clean cooking?
[00:11:59] Ben Jeffreys: We published a, a bit of a thought leadership article on this last year. And it's on the website next billion, which does like sort of news in the, the development sector. We were trying to think through, okay, well, what's our role to play in solving this problem.
And then how can we develop it in a way that as we grow, we actually what you call like compound our ability to solve this problem even better. So the flywheel concept again, it goes back to something that sort of Jim Collins kind of worked on originally with Amazon of all people. So they're, if, for example, if you Google Amazon flywheel, that's probably one of the most famous flywheels going around.
And then in their perspective, they talk about, okay, well, if we get more sellers onto the side selling products, that's gonna bring more traffic. And the more traffic we bring, then the more sellers want to be on the side. So basically this is our compounding effect to go through that. So, so what, what we saw with us was, okay, well, if we can, we saw that these households have this problem.
We need to solve it. We can obviously just directly sell them a product in a traditional business. But is that really a strong value add for us as a sort of international social enterprise and what we saw that was that, okay. Well, we can probably bring more to the tape this, rather than just sort of selling a stove such, which is not, it's a good thing.
But we have this ability to develop basically technology, or if I go , we have the ability to get these international. Sort of capital opportunities. So carbon credits investment and debt, et cetera, and be able to bring that money together and then actually channel that through to solving this problem in the household using technology.
So the, the best example of this is okay, instead of just having a standalone stove, if we can make this a stove that can also directly generate carbon credits off the stove usage, we can then channel that through the data connectivity back into international markets who are looking. So companies be their airlines, energy companies, households, et cetera, who wanna offset their greenhouse gas emissions so they can buy these very high impact carbon credits directly off the stove.
And we can pass that value back. To the households as well. So if we can do it in that way, basically as we're solving this individual problem at the household level, we, we are generating revenue over multiple years. And then that revenue is able to use to help us continue and expand and, and solve this problem.
Bring the cost down to these households significantly to, to switch that use across from, from wood to, to modern cooking.
[00:14:29] Brandon Stover: Absolutely. Yeah. And are you guys gonna pass on some of the revenue and investing that's made from the carbon credits to the users of these induction stoves?
[00:14:39] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah, that that's a really good question and something we're, we're super, super keen to do. So we're, we're at this stage, we're kind of call calling like end of phase one now, which is we've got the technology now where we can set it all up where basically we can utilize that carbon credit revenue to basically reduce the, the cost of the stove to the house.
But then the next stage that we are now starting to go through and develop is to go, okay, rather than just reducing the cost. How can we actually share this as a revenue stream into these households moving forward? So we're, we're then becoming more like a service provider that, Hey, if you use this stove, it's gonna be great for you.
Plus then you're gonna have this ability to track your carbon or, or carbon credits that you generate off your behavior change. And then you can basically cash them in as you're going through and generating them once a month, once a year, whatever, whatever you want to go to from there.
And for us, if we can get to that next phase, then it's basically like, instead of roughly accelerate people transitioning across
[00:15:39] Brandon Stover: Yeah, I think that would rapidly increase like adoption. I can think of, you know, not only there, but if we could do the same thing in other areas of the world, in other countries, like getting people to adopt, you know, better habits around the energy that they're using, if you can incentivize them by, okay.
If you're reducing the amount of energy you're using, you're actually going to get some payment from these carbon credits.
[00:16:01] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah. exactly, exactly. Like, like a good example. I was talking to someone the other day was like, okay, let's say you're buying, you're looking to buy an electric vehicle. And someone came along and said, Hey, if you buy this, and then you actually, at the same time, if you use it a certain amount, then effectively the, the electric vehicle will, will be able to pay for it through the carbon offset that you're generating.
You'd be like, this is brilliant. Of course, I'll do it. Sign me up today. And yeah, not only will, I wanna want to get that technology. I wanna use it up to that level to make sure that I'm maximizing my benefit And that's us in like the develop world, you know, like our first income is quite.
Yeah. While these households like any small amount of sort of income has a huge amount of impact in their lives.
[00:16:50] Brandon Stover: Let's go ahead and shift to some of your story. It's starting in your career of business development and retail sales executive, but then at some point you decided to pick up your family including your two daughters and move from Australia to Cambodia.
So what drew you to moving to Cambodia?
[00:17:10] Ben Jeffreys: it was an interesting sort of sliding doors moment for, for me and, and my wife and well, the kid, the kids were quite young, so they didn't have too much of a say, but we, we were very much considering them as well. Was we, we had a great life, you know, Australia, but both me and my wife for many years are very much had a travel bug.
Going back about 15 years ago, we, we took a year sabbatical to, to travel. We tried to attempt to travel from Europe back to Australia, Overland without taking a flight. Unfortunately didn't quite get there. There was a couple of points where we had to take a flight but we got pretty close. But yeah, we we've always really had this, this sort of motivation experience that if we have that opportunity, once we have kids to get them to go get exposure at a young age to different cultures, different ways of doing things, it'd be really beneficial for them in the long term.
So, yeah, so we were, we, we were doing pretty well happy in Australia. I was doing some good for purpose work here in Australia, actually working at a a social enterprise incubator was really enjoying that. But yeah, I very much wanted to get my hands on to a real problem and then look at this opportunity overseas as well.
So yeah, so at that stage there was Lizzy who, who was a friend of mine. She, she was the CEO of organization called engineers with our borders. And they were like, Hey, we've kind of done this very early stage prototype around this SPGA system. We've just kind of pitched it to Google for this Google impact challenge.
And they're like, Hey, this is cool. Why don't we give you some, some C capital to basically commercialize that into a social enterprise? And she was like, Hey, we're looking for someone with a. Combination of business background, someone who's worked more on the impact side as well. And we started talking about it and, and I was heading home and going to my wife, Hey, how about we move to Cambodia?
If, if I can put in a, I'll put myself forward for this and we moved to Cambodia, she's like, okay, it's actually one of the few countries we've actually never been to. So alright. Let's, let's consider it and see how we go. And we had a bit of a negotiation around I won get into the details, but okay, well, if we do this, then there's also this, this other thing that I've keyed on as well.
We're like, all right, cool. It sounds good. So yeah. Was lucky enough to go through that process and then yeah, and move to Cambodia, which is those first few years were, were pretty crazy, but it was a lot of fun. And Yeah. we, we look back at it fondly and ended up having our third daughter over in Cambodia as well.
[00:19:21] Brandon Stover: Amazing. Yeah. How was life different living in Cambodia than Australia?
[00:19:25] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah, it's a really interesting, very, very interesting place. You've got a country that I don't know. Have you ever been to Cambodia?
[00:19:32] Brandon Stover: I have not. No.
[00:19:34] Ben Jeffreys: No. Okay. Yeah. So it's, it's one of the friendliest places you can go to, and this is the comment for anyone who goes and visits Cambodia. They're like, wow, the Cambodian people are just the friendliest people in the world and which is very, very true and wonderful people.
But they're also a country with a very recent, huge sort of scar on, on, on their society, which is the Kamar Rouge period. So basically the entire. People and generation now, still living with that legacy of what happened with the Kamai Rouge and the mass genocide there as well. So one thing you find living in Cambodia was exceptionally lovely, friendly people.
But then that ability to then. Actually really developed deeper relationships with local Cambodian people is was really, really challenging. And originally we thought, oh, okay, maybe this is just cuz we are not Cambodian. And you know, maybe they really just like hanging out with other Cambodians, but through work, I was able to really kind of get a bit closer with, with Cambodians and it was like, oh no, it's just actually Cambodians very much stick to themselves.
Like you, your, your friends are your family basically. And so there's not a lot of socializing that occurs outside of your family. And then that very much goes back to this KA Rouge period where basically you could just trust no one, like if you said the wrong thing to the wrong person, et cetera, and you could basically just disappear.
So it tends to be, it's a lovely, lovely place. Interesting. There's these interesting quirks in society that they're still living with this legacy from 40 years ago. Around the Rouge as well.
[00:21:04] Brandon Stover: I'm curious about when you guys were first getting these products in the hands of these people, and you're mentioning, you know, a little bit about their culture of how they keep them themselves more insider based. How did you get people to trust and adopt the product as you coming out from outsiders saying, you know, this is something that we think will.
[00:21:24] Ben Jeffreys: that's a really good question. We did it basically bringing a bit of the thinking sort of like a bit of that Silicon belly style, strategic thinking of going, okay, well, how do we remove the friction points in the, in the process of people trying new technologies? So for us, the big one was rather than people buying the asset.
Outright upfront, how can we actually break it down into really small payments where the risk of trying something new is then very, very low for people. And that was really kind of the main, main turning point for us was to be able to do this. What's called pay as you go structure which we have a company in Australia, that's doing something similar at a software level called after pay.
I think there's options in, in the us as well. But yeah, basically going okay, well, rather than buying this asset outright, if you're, you're only spending a few dollars a month then. The risk of you trying this and it not working out is then very, very low, but then we just sort of rely on the, the value of our product to see us through in customer service to see us through from there.
So that was kind of the main point we found that really sort of helped to overcome some of those initial trust concerns. But yeah, it's been interesting as well in like like typically if people love a product, you know, they'll talk about it with their family and friends and you get lots of referrals, et cetera, that doesn't really happen in Cambodia.
Because again, people are, are quite quite risk averse in, in going out and sort of talking about things with people which is very different. The other country operated with in with is Bangladesh and Bangladesh is very different. People are just like referring us left, right. And center going, Hey, no, okay.
Call them blah, blah, blah. Like super social, super outgoing culturally of going out there. So it's quite interesting seeing those differences.
[00:23:01] Brandon Stover: Well, you also mentioned being called in with this team of engineers who were already working on a product when you were bought on board. I'm curious what the iteration process for the prototypes were and kinda, you know, how you funded those first prototypes and got them going out to people.
[00:23:18] Ben Jeffreys: So when I came on board, the engineers who had previously done work on it were actually volunteers. So typically how engineers without borders work, it's a bit like other, without borders organizations is they'll take a bit of a career break for a year, go over and, and do this project overseas and, and try and develop something up from an engineering perspective.
So when I, when I came on, it was kind of, here's this kind of prototype here. There's this guy, give him a call. He's a local Cambodian guy that did some work on it with us. And there was this guy and I was like, okay, cool. All right, well we'll, we'll get going. It was, it was, it was pretty sort of basic at that starting point.
And then we, we, I got into country, I went and saw a few of those prototypes at the agricultural university we've done. I was like, okay, cool. We can see this. Let's let's see if we can replicate it from a commercial perspective. So we tried building one. So I got called these guys up who previously kind of worked on these projects.
But then moved on to other things and said, oh, Hey, can, can I get you to come and build these with me? Happy to pay you, et cetera. And they're like, oh yeah, no worries. We're just happy to do. And so we built, built another one. And as soon as we built, I like, oh man, this is, there is No.
way we can do this at the commercial level.
Like, this is just pure, like engineering kind of just slapping it together and then doesn't work, not work. Okay. Well, let's put some more glue here and stuff like that was like, this is just not gonna work. So yeah, so then we had a, luckily got two people on board. One was a young engineer called lecture, me.
She just, she was doing actually like an internship or looking for an internship out at university. Somehow I managed to get in contact with her and say, Hey, do you just wanna come do an internship with me? Cuz I need someone to sort of help design, et cetera and help connect with local people. And then went back to engineers with our board and said, Hey, I really need an engineer.
Can we get another volunteer? So he got a great guy called Lockie Harris who came over as well. And it was basically the three of us in those early days. Really starting to kick things off. And then we, we went From that first prototype to then going, okay, well, we need to do like a production model for this.
And we were working with this local company that was it was actually run by Singapore and managed by an Australia local staff and were like, oh, that's a good thing. They turned out to be just absolutely crazy. So we had this weird experience to the point where we were at the end. We had to exit that relationship and we had to wait outside their factory with the gates locked for eight hours for someone to turn up so that we could actually get access to our mold and had to basically, yeah, it was, it was just crazy at that time.
But we managed to get them mold out. So yeah, we had these in those first few years. I think we went through four products sort of designs or phases before we finally something that.
[00:26:06] Brandon Stover: From there, you were able to find some manufacturers to actually start making the product.
[00:26:11] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah. So we we'd had a, that that manufacturer had actually been doing it. And so we'd already been manufacturing at that stage. But yeah, we were kind of like, cuz I, I knew nothing about what's called roto mold manufacturing, neither didn't like me, neither did Lockey. So we were like, oh, these guys they're experts in this area.
They know how to do it. And yeah, it just turned out that they were completely not they had no, no idea, but we, we at least managed to get some out the door and, and start it up. And some of them didn't work, but we kind of just went, well, we'll get a few out. We'll just look after the people super well.
So if there's any issues we fixed it or replace the system, et cetera, just to do those first few tests from there. And then yeah, as it, as it then went from there, then we were able to figure out, okay, well what do we need to do properly moving forward? And then we spoke to another manufacturer.
We were able to get the molds in over there and.
[00:27:01] Brandon Stover: Gotcha. Okay. Well, I'd like to turn back to the pay you go model that you had mentioned and making it more affordable for people to get the product in their home, start using it and paying afterwards. What I had seen in the research doing this is that sometimes it can actually help them to make an income from like the fertilizer that they're making, producing more yield and things like that.
To help, you know, start paying for this product, which I thought was great. Are there any other ways that this starts to help produce more income for them to kind of fuel that paid you go model?
[00:27:34] Ben Jeffreys: Mm, Yeah. Interestingly, one of the biggest ones, which is That we see with households is if you take cooking with wood, once you add up collecting it, prepare, get cooking, et cetera. It takes about 20 hours per week, predominantly of women's time to cooking in that way compared to a modern cooking setup.
So you're talking that, just cooking with wood particularly in a lot of these households, you cooking two to three times a day. You're basically spending half a working week just in cooking compared to if you didn't, if you had a more modern setup. So the biggest impact we often see is the fact that you put in this technology, the biogas system, or the electric cook stove system, and all of a sudden women have, have all this time freed up.
And it's pretty rare for women. I mean, we have no say obviously in what they then do with their time. Our job is to give them that agency to have that option from there, but rarely do we come across a household that hasn't then gone and done something really productive for that time. So we've seen women starting second businesses or, or like home businesses.
It could be like clothing or, or they're growing additional vegetables. They're selling these cash crops to the market. They're doing all kinds of things. We've had women who have started up businesses like cooking food as like a local restaurant. And stuff like that. So that, that to me is the most rewarding part of this whole thing is giving that agency to, to women in these households to go, okay, well, you've got the time now and you've got the ability you're not sort of, you know, having EMPH issues or you have one woman who used to spend like 20, $30 a month or medicine for smoke related headaches and other things as well.
So you go out there and do, do whatever you think is best for and family. And that's, that's part what then comes outta.
[00:29:19] Brandon Stover: Yeah, I think that's a hallmark of a good solution is, you know, we talked about the problems earlier of it helping to solve, you know, medical issues, helping to solve climate change issues. But now we're talking about the economics of the place. Maybe even freeing up time for education. Like we start to touch on these other systems that you know, help kind of bring everything up together.
[00:29:38] Ben Jeffreys: And I've had this conversation with a, a few people and some, sometimes people put forward that question of, when I talk about that, they're like, well, how do you know that they they're going to use that time productively? And I'm like, well, we don't. I mean, it, it's not our job.
I mean, we, we, we, we're not overboards of these people. Our job is to put in a bit, bit of technology that gives them the choice and what they choose to do with that extra time is up from there. If they choose to, you know, cruise on Facebook for an extra couple hours a day, Hey, good luck to that's what, that's what choose to it's it's it's up to them from that point on.
[00:30:12] Brandon Stover: well going along the, the process, so you guys engineered a few prototypes, you get it to scale, you started production getting it out to different people. When did you start to identify starting to provide induction stoves, moving beyond the biofield one.
[00:30:27] Ben Jeffreys: So it came off to that strategic stage that we talked about before, which was that was in, I can't remember if it was 2018 or 2019 once we kind of figured out. Okay, well, if our role is, is to connect these emerging market households with international capital and figure out how to do that in a really effective, seamless way.
We kind of come to that realization. And then at the same time came to the realization with, with the buy gas stoves or, or setups that it was only ever gonna be that sort of five to 10% of the market, which was actually a difficult decision or point to come to. Because if you look at the number of households of livestock, it's around 40 to 50% of households, you know, in a rural area in Cambodia or Bangladesh.
So we're like, okay, well the, the market in our original thing, it was like 40 50% of households. And then we just weren't seeing that happen. And then we realized actually, ah, it's because a lot of those that sort of, that, that gap of households as such. Were yes, they had livestock, but they were probably looking at selling that livestock or selling that the farming land as, as the country was progressing economically and shifting away from small scale agricul.
So for them to buy this biogas system, which is a fantastic system, but it's a, it's a system for the long term. And so it, it just, it wasn't going to sort of happen for those people. Cause it just didn't make sense in their head. So that was the point that we went. Ah, okay. So it's a great product for the ride household who are committed to small scale farming, long term, but that was only five, 10% of the, the households in the area.
And then the, at that stage, we're already doing pay as you go, as you mentioned for the biogas solutions. So our, our thought was like, oh, okay, well we're, we're actually pretty good rather than just think of ourselves as biogas at this pace, you go cooking. Okay, well then what's that next product that we think will be the, the next best solution for another 90 of ours that we could bring that technology into that's.
[00:32:21] Brandon Stover: You guys were already in the process of, you know, producing this other product. Was it hard to transition to doing the induction stoves now or was manufacturing and everything easy to get in place for that?
[00:32:33] Ben Jeffreys: if you look at our sales now, sort of 80, 90% of sales are those electrical stoves. And it's almost like all the hard yards we went through in trying to develop out the biogas products really helped us to come and make the right decisions around what product next.
So for example with these electric cook stoves we manufacture them at quite a large scale, China and then ship Cambodia, Bangladesh. Potentially, we wanna look at production in those countries in the future as well, but that's what works with us for the best. But the ability to manufacture these at a large scale with high levels of quality control was something that we learned out of doing the biogas systems, which are a bit more manual.
There's still commercially manufactured, but a bit more involved and a bit more manual. So it was those kinds of learnings that?
we were able to take from that first product to apply for the second one to go, well, we know we know what the constraints are going, be in getting this product to, so that really helped us sort of choose the right solution that we could see moving.
[00:33:34] Brandon Stover: Well, talk a little bit about some of the things that you're doing with this induction stove, the way it's created so that you guys can collect data with it and how you guys are using that data to empower the customers.
[00:33:45] Ben Jeffreys: so if you think of that stove, it's like a, a standard modern electric cooked stove. Like I mentioned, if you've seen like those induction stoves in houses, in, in America, for example. So it works just like that it sits on the tabletop, but then under, under the hood basically is where that sort of sort of unique technology bows is, is that, that, that motherboard or P PCPA as you call.
Is then you have a SIM card connected into that. And so what that SIM card does is basically we can ship that anywhere in the world. We've sent it into Africa, other parts of Asia, et cetera. That SIM card is a global SIM that basically has direct data connection back to a tech. So what that does is that tells us like you know, simple information that the GPS location at the stove but then it also gives us access to be both send and received data between us and the stove as well.
So what that brings for us is three main use cases at this stage. One is that pays you go technology. What that means is people can use mobile money on their mobile money app or go to their local mobile money shop, which is their banking equivalent in these countries.
And you need to make a monthly payment. You do that. It then automatically sinks through our mobile money provider back to AEC, and then back onto the stove. say that yes, you've made the payment and then you keep using the stove from there. So they're paying it off on an installment plan is basically how that works.
So for one to two year period but then if they don't pay, then the stove switches off until that payment is received. So that's one of the ways that we can sort of really do this at a much larger scale is because we don't have to go around chasing people for money. Like you normally would in this situation, you can just go, Okay.
well, here's the stove.
It doesn't work. It switches off. And this has been a hugely successful business model in the solar sector over in Africa. So we kind of. Looked at that and went, Hey, we can bring this into the cooking sector, this sort of pay you go approach. So that's kind of use case number one, use case. Number two is when it comes to people using their stove their, their ability to monitor their electricity usage is really, really important, cuz there's kind of this assumption that it's quite expensive to, to use electric cooking.
But it's actually really, really cheap. So we'll be launching later this later this year, an app interface where customers can then actually track their electricity usage much like say we would with some grid providers do this in our countries as well. So they can really easily see that they'll be able to make mobile money payments.
And then hopefully it's sometime the future, the up the track, their, their carbon credits through that app as well. So that's where we use case number two.
And then that use case number three is, as people are using the stove, they're generating this usage data. We can then sort of bring that, that usage data back to our servers and then convert that into carbon credits from there and then sell that to, yeah, whoever, whoever we are working with, be that energy companies, airlines that people are looking to, or companies offset their emissions.
And then that becomes that revenue source that we can use to, to bring down the costs at this stage of, of the stove, to the customers.
[00:36:34] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Can you explain a little bit of the economics behind carbon credits and you know why they're so attractive for the companies?
[00:36:41] Ben Jeffreys: to give you a at a, a very top level idea, the, the market for this, for solving this clean cooking problem globally is about a 40 billion market altogether the market for solving or the carbon credits related to solving the clean cooking problem is around 240 billion. So it's about five times larger.
The, market opportunity around the carbon credits than it is around actually just the stoves. So for us, that's kind of a real driver of, Okay.
well, if we can tap into that money over there and bring that into solving this problem, phase one, as I mentioned, is like that reduces cost significantly.
Then phase two, actually, these people are actually the ones actually doing the hard work of reducing carbon emissions, and they deserve to be. Paid for that solution. So that's ultimately where we wanna wanna get it to then is, is to make them part of, of solving this global problem and, and incentivizing them to do it.
[00:37:42] Brandon Stover: And I know there's been quite a few companies now, like getting more into these carbon credits. What have you seen so far as like the trend with carbon credits and how many companies are moving towards that?
[00:37:53] Ben Jeffreys: it's been a really, really positive sign over the last couple of years particularly in the, since co 26, that?
was in Glasgow last year. I can't remember when a lot of companies have gone from talking about achieving their net zero goals to actually saying, yes, we're going. We, we are formally committing to it which is really good and governments too.
So what that has meant is there's obviously the, the end game solution. We are we're all after is that zero emissions in, in total, but that is going to take 10, 20, 30, 30 years to get to that point. So the next best solution is okay, well, if you can't achieve that for all your emissions, like if you're net zeros, let's say 2040, when you're actually a hundred percent zero emissions, let's say the airline industry there to get everyone off aviation fuel is going to take time.
So, so what we, what the next best thing we can do is to go, okay, well, if you can't reduce it here, we can reduce it over there. And then you need to pay for it until that point. But at least we can use the money that from your emissions, which is effectively what this carbon credit is to do to, to put it here.
So one way I talk about it, cuz some people quite often talk about it and say, well, is carbon credits, greenwashing? Like, you know, oh yeah, we're offsetting our emissions, but then they're just emitting anyway. And it's like, no, it's a, it's a Mar market based mechanism. And so people are actually having to pay for every single amount that they AIT rather than just tokenistic buying something and saying, Hey, we're great.
It's like, no, you need to actually get from here down to zero. So, so we it's, it's fundamentally changed the market over the last few years. We've gone from, I mean, we've been doing carbon credit since 2018. But all of a sudden now we've got companies approaching us, you know?
with 10 million deals, 20 million deals saying, Hey, we need to lock up our as many carbon credits as you can produce over the next 10 to 15 years, because there's just this huge demand for this moving forward.
So it's a pretty exciting time. It's gone from a potential, a high potential market, but smaller transactions to just a lot of, of opportunity flooding in Right.
now, which is, is really good to see. It's good for.
[00:40:01] Brandon Stover: Yeah. And because it's based on market dynamics them pre-paying would be them avoiding like the much larger cost of, you know, five, 10 years down the road when they're still producing emissions and need to pay for that.
[00:40:14] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah.
exactly. I mean, I look at the, the prices we were doing back in 2018 and I was like, man, like, they got a good deal back then. Cause effectively what they're doing is they're going okay, well we'll buy the credits and, and we'll incentivize it, but we'll lock it in over, over this time period. So it's a long term deal.
So for us that that's very much their incentive is, is the quicker they can get in. Then the better it is for them from a price perspective. And it works on our side too, because of the, the end of the day, the greater that investment we can get earlier then the easier it makes to roll this technology out and accelerate through these phases that I'm talking about as well.
So it is a win-win in that way, you just gotta find that happy balance of, of sort of price versus risk
[00:40:55] Brandon Stover: Well, we're talking about trying to scale this to tons of people across the world to get clean cooking 800 million households transition to clean cooking. Is this goal ever overwhelming for you? It sounds like you have a pretty good model to like speed up this flywheel, but I think anytime we try and tackle.
A problem. That's this ambitious or this large, it can feel a bit overwhelming.
[00:41:18] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah, maybe, I don't know. Maybe I'm a little bit crazy on this poem kind of the other way around I'm I'm I I'm very impatient about this problem personally. I'm like, it kind of frustrates me that it's still there. When I think we could actually solve this problem, the others in my team get a little bit annoyed with me cause I'm like we should be able to solve by the end of this decade.
Like seriously, like there's no reason why it's just a it's forgot who was talking about. So someone summed it up really well. I think it was a way of the, it was a guy from you were in you're in Austin. Is that where you are?
[00:41:50] Brandon Stover: Yes, Austin, Texas.
[00:41:51] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah.
So one of my favorite podcast guys I listen to is L Friedman who I think is in Austin as well.
Yeah. And he, he was talking about something and he's gone. Oh, okay. It's moved from a conceptual problem into an engineering problem. So what he was saying is the technology is there. We just need to work out how to do it at X dollars for at X scale, et cetera. This cooking problem is, is an engineering problem.
Now it is no longer like, can we do it? It's like, oh no, if we can do X, Y, Z, it's it's literally done. So, so that's where it's at. So to me, I'm quite impatient around this cause I'm like, well, the, the solution is there. It's not like we need some amazing new technology or whatever. It's just, it comes down to scale and unit economics basically.
And, and off we go from there. So yeah. So I, I don't see an overwhelming problem.
[00:42:37] Brandon Stover: Hmm. Yeah. Tons of drive to get it solved, especially with that perspective. Going from this transition of like working in the corporate world and moving to, you know, the social impact world and being a CEO of this company, and you just mentioned how much drive you have to solve this problem. How has this transition been for you personally?
Like how have your views of work and life changed because of it?
[00:43:02] Ben Jeffreys: I think for me personally I had a, I started off my career in, in the corporate sector and it?
was worked with some wonderful people and really enjoyed that. That was kind of like, you know, the, the training grounds that helped me to be able to do what I'm I'm doing today.
But going to work was a.
[00:43:19] Brandon Stover: Hmm.
[00:43:20] Ben Jeffreys: So the company I was working for at the time, a very successful global company and the owner was one of the richest people in Australia and he had this mega yacht kind of thing on, on, in Sydney Harbor.
And someone mentioned to me one day that how much it costs to fill up that mega. With petrol and it was the same as my annual salary. And I was like, . I was like, okay. So, so I'm working for a guy, my annual salary, which is equivalent for filling up his yacht for joy. Right. And I was like, yeah, this is, this is not why I get outta bed in the morning.
So this is, yeah, that, that was kind of one of there, there was multiple points, but that was the big realization for me. So at that stage then I was like, okay, well I'd always wanted to work in more impactful areas. I originally, when I graduated university, I was like, okay, corporate social responsibility.
How can I get into that area? Couldn't figure it out. So well, let's just get into sort of the corporate world and, and then work it out from there. . But after that I was like pretty dedicated to making that transition. So at that stage I was there's a, I don't know if it's well known in the us, but there's an international charity called Oxfam.
And they actually were one of my clients at that stage when I was working the corporate sector, they would do some advertising and stuff. And so I knew a few people there and I was like, Hey, I'm going off this, this trip with my wife. And when I come back, like I wanna move in to doing more for purpose work.
So thankfully kept in contact with them. When I came back was able to, there was a few jobs going, they said, oh, why didn't take look for this job, etcetera, you can apply. And went from there. It meant about a 50% pay cut to what I was getting previously. But I never had this problem again of getting outta bed in the morning.
[00:44:56] Brandon Stover: Hm. Well you have three children? No.
[00:44:58] Ben Jeffreys: Yes.
[00:44:59] Brandon Stover: Yes. And how old are they?
[00:45:00] Ben Jeffreys: They're 10, seven and five.
[00:45:03] Brandon Stover: Okay. What are you teaching them about? You know, purposeful work or, you know, looking at things that they might want to do in their life.
[00:45:10] Ben Jeffreys: Like the two things that they see, they kind of know the work that. Say I do. And my wife does she actually runs her own online YouTube yoga channel for, for mothers. So for either prenatal or postnatal or post-birth mothers to just help, help them with yoga as well.
So we both have pretty full purpose or sort of work that we do and you can talk to them directly about it and they kind of get it, but in their frame of thinking at that age, I think they more see it as like, well, that's what they do for work. I think what's probably more important is just that sort of modeling as human beings of sort of discussing and talking about it.
Talking about how to do that in a healthy work life. balanced way about how you can make it positive or, or really just showing that in your day to. Ways of living that you can create that positive impact. And then as they get older and older, I think hopefully those sort of behavior or, or that exposure to that from an early age
helps to sort of set that moral compass in a, in a good direction for the future.
[00:46:18] Brandon Stover: if our listeners are at the stage of identifying a problem, much like you did that, they want to help solve, how should they go about identifying that problem?
[00:46:29] Ben Jeffreys: It's a, it's a really good question. I think. For a lot of people, it's probably best to sort of think, okay, well, what is the value add? I can bring to this situation rather than probably focusing on what problems I need to tackle or want to tackle. And I think people quite often get it around that wrong is as people tend to focus a bit too much on, okay, well, what am I really passionate about rather than what is the value I can add into this situation?
So I would recommend, I mean, if you look at, and I think this exciting thing, you kind of had the traditional, there was the business world, and then there was the sort of, you know, charities over here. But now you've got this thing called the social enterprise, which is a business that exists doing good.
And it kind of sits in the middle and the people that are needed in there are like really good accountants, really good marketing people, like, you know, people who have these really valuable skills in the corporate sector that using them for a sort of good, and again, also in the charity side is, is needed as well.
So if you're at a career point where you're like, okay, well, I, I wanna move into more full purpose work. I wouldn't be stuck too much on what purpose it is. So I'd just go, okay, what value can I add? Am I, for example, an accountant, okay. Just go and work in any organization where they the, for purpose, but you can, they can utilize your skills.
And then once you get into that world, you start to understand more of what those opportunities are. Like. I never had any idea I'd be doing what. I'm doing now. It's just that as you go through you constantly evolve and, and go from there once you get closer and closer to the, to the area where you wanna work
[00:48:04] Brandon Stover: Yeah, I think that's excellent advice. I always talk about like the people that want to help fight climate change and they think they need to become a climate scientist. Like, well, actually there's needs for accountants, marketers, product developers, software engineers, you know, there's a million different things that you could do look at the skill set that you have.
And how can you add value as you were just mentioning?
[00:48:25] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah, exactly. Totally. Totally.
[00:48:27] Brandon Stover: Well my final two questions the first is, is there anything you would like to leave listeners with today that we didn't already cover?
[00:48:34] Ben Jeffreys: No, I think we've had a, a pretty good co conversation around it, I think for us, we've we've got over this next decade. I think we're at the early stages of really seriously tackling what I, I would call this energy transition where we are decarbonizing our energy supply globally. So obviously we're looking at renewables in the grid in, in developed world.
We're looking at electric vehicles, et cetera. It's going to be a very interesting decade, cuz literally it's been what 200 odd years that we've been relying on fossil fuels is our main source of energy. Like I, I think we shouldn't underestimate how big of a task is ahead of us. And that we all need to look at.
Okay, well, how can we add into that part and be willing. Willing to realize that it may be a bit, the journey may a little bit choppy along the way. So like the, the friend I mentioned who was having these issues around brownouts in California, and we had some recent issues in Australia where there was like, you know access to electricity and gas during winter, there, there, there are gonna be a few challenges along the way, but I think what we should be very mindful of is to make sure that this transition is not something that happens in the richer parts of the world.
But we also look at how can we include people from all over the world in this, this conversation. And I dunno if we've really, I mean, we we've been from a moral perspective, quite good in going okay, well, This was predominantly a Western problem. This, this climate change issue. We either industrialized countries, we created the most emissions, blah, blah, blah.
That's that's all farewell and good. And so if you look at the government frameworks, there's a lot of concessions in there for developing countries, which I think is a, is a good structure, but it's kind of created this two tier almost approach of going, okay, well, these guys are, are sort of here and a bit more serious about it, and these guys are, are not.
So I think, yes, it's it was good to create two tiers from a problem perspective, but we shouldn't create two tiers from a solution perspective. I think that's a really important point. We should be looking. I mean, we are trying to figure out how we can incentivize people to reduce emissions around cooking.
We should be looking at it. How can we incentivize sort of, you know, countries like India and Vietnam who are still putting in huge amounts of coal fire, powered stations moving forward. So it's great if you know us in in the Western world or the developed world can bring down emissions, but it doesn't actually mean that much.
If you know, the countries that are growing quite rapidly are actually putting in coal fired power stations. So, so we need to look at how we get everyone on board as part of that solution. I,
[00:51:14] Brandon Stover: Yeah. I think that's crucial, especially as these other countries start to be reaching the levels of developed countries and the ways that we've been using energy they're gonna want to do the same thing live in the same way. That's what they've seen. So, if we can come in and transition the types of energy they're using, or the ways that they're doing and still give 'em that quality of life before they start emitting all of that you know, energy and stuff that we went through in the develop world, I think is a, a crucial, crucial part that needs to be done.
[00:51:44] Ben Jeffreys: Yeah. Yeah. And it it's very much, I, I don't think we can, we can force them because like you say, at the end of the day, they're a developing country. They're, they're now moving into that developed phase. A lot of these countries, which a huge, like, we talk a lot about, if you look at perceptions around.
Development and where we're at generally people in the Western world are like, oh, okay, well, yeah, no, we're, you know, things have gotten worse over the last 20 years, but the reality is globally. We've had huge leaps forward really big leaps forward. But at the end of the day, these people are gonna want those better lives.
And if it's like, okay, well you're gonna add 20% to my electricity bill. Cause it's renewable. They're they, they're just not gonna sign up to that from a, a moral perspective because they haven't had that full experience. The problem, their incomes are tighter, et cetera. So I, I do think we need to come at it from an incentive based approach, I think is really important.
I mean, what's happened recently with oil and gas prices as also actually. Really just uncovered this whole idea of, you know, fossil fuels being this stable sort of, you know, energy supply that it actually is not the case. And we've already seen in the governments, in the areas where we work with all of a sudden, this, this thinking start to shift energy is not just been about cost now, but also energy security these guys are talking about and going, oh, hang on.
Renewables means we're not exposed to a Ukraine crisis or to sort of how the price of this happening in international markets, we can produce our own energy. And that that's starting to shift that thinking as well. So yeah, so we, we gotta figure out ways to, to make this happen everywhere.
[00:53:17] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Well, I think this leads into my final question, which is how can we push the world to evolve?
[00:53:24] Ben Jeffreys: We are undertaking one of the biggest leaps forward in humankind around decarbonizing energy. So. If we can land this, I kind of feel like we are like the gymnast who's doing like the triple back flip Simon Biles style currently.
That's where we are. And like the end of this decade is when we need to hit the mat and we need to make sure we hit it standing up and sort of do that big thing, whatever it is, I dunno what they call where they put their arms out, but they land stick that landing and not just tumble over and, and all over the map from there.
So if we can do that, number one, it'll decarbonize our energy solu our energy grid, but number two, that'll be the framework for the next great evolution, which is then basically energy becoming so cheap and so easy to produce that we will have abundant energy for all and we'll move. And the best parallel I can talk about this is if you went back to someone in 2000 and you said, Hey, Do you know, in 20 years time, you'll be able to have like no one even bothered charging you for phone calls, no one even bothered charging you for text messages.
You'll have unlimited data on this phone and you don't even know what data and they'll just be like, that's crazy, man. How could a business ever survive providing that level of service? And that's what I hope to see electricity get to where it becomes so cheap to produce hundred percent renewable that at the end of the day, it's we can use energy in, in abundant ways.
I think that's the ultimate goal where we need to get to.
[00:54:49] Brandon Stover: Yeah, well, excellent analogy. Ben, it's been a pleasure on the interview today. I'm so glad that you came on. I really excited for the things that you guys are doing and hope to see it succeed in the future.
[00:55:00] Ben Jeffreys: Thanks. Thanks so much for having me. Thanks B
[00:55:03] Brandon Stover: Thank you for listening to the evolve. Podcasts links to everything we discussed today are available in the show. Notes. Transcripts are also available in the show notes and everything can be viewed on our website at evolve. The doc world that's evolve the.world.
My one ask for you is to share this episode with others. If you know someone who is interested in social impact, social entrepreneurship, or just making a difference in the world, please share this episode. The challenges in our world need all of those who can contribute to existing solutions or create entirely new ones. so please share the show with those kind intelligent people who are just like you until next time my friend keep evolving.