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Bath start-up harness the power of poo

SETsquared Bath member and founder of The Biofactory is embarking on an £850k project to bring to life his vision for improved sanitation facilities in low income, high density communities in Africa.

Eoin Sharkey, MEng alumnus from the University of Bath, has designed an all-in-one, off-grid toilet and waste processing system that utilises biodigestion to convert human waste into cooking fuel and soil conditioner.

The funding, which is made up of £675k from Innovate UK’s Energy Catalyst Fund with the remainder coming from private investors, will enable Eoin to take his invention from a development system to a commercially viable product. The technology will initially be built and tested in Bath, before being installed at a school and community centre in Beira, Mozambique, to gather user feedback and validate their business model.

The project will be delivered alongside partners Bristol-Beira Link, ADEL Sofala and the University of West of England.

Eoin commented: “Having spent time working in refugee camps in Northern Kenya, getting to know the families and seeing the conditions first-hand, I knew this was a problem I needed to solve. Over 200,000 children die per year in Africa due to spread of disease due to poor sanitation. Our solution manages human waste from its production, right through to pathogen free and safe-to-handle output material, without the need for human contact. This is crucial as it is contact with human waste that is a leading cause of disease transmission.”

Eoin Sharkey, The Biofactory founder

The use of the Biofactory’s off-grid toilet and waste processing system has the potential to increase the welfare and quality of life for low income communities most in need. Not only will they provide dramatic improvements to sanitation, but they also provide alternative cooking fuels and facilities. Most residents of these communities rely on charcoal for cooking, which has a huge health and environmental impact. With this technology in place, users will be able to access clean biogas cooking facilities locally, reducing the time and money spent sourcing fuel.

Dominik Byrne, Project Lead at Bristol-Beira Link said: “We’re incredibly excited to be part of this project. We’ll be acting as a facilitating partner – we know the on the ground situation, we know the local communities and have established partners in the region – and can therefore introduce him to these communities more easily. The difference these toilets could make to families will be life changing.”

Whilst at the University of Bath, Eoin accessed business support through the student enterprise team. He won an Innovation Award which included a year’s membership at SETsquared Bath which meant he could access all of the services available through the centre such as pitch and investor readiness and mentoring, as well as access to experts in residence, such as lawyers, accountants and tax advisors.

Siobain Hone, Graduate Enterprise Manager at the University of Bath said: “We saw Eoin’s potential immediately and were able to provide him with the crucial support he needed in those early days of starting a business whilst he was still a student here with us in Bath. Beyond the clear health and environmental benefits, this technology has a huge role to play in improving gender equality and social inclusion, so it’s fantastic to see the business go on to flourish.”

They took part in SETsquared’s Graduate Acceleration Showcase event in 2019, now called GradInvest, which gave them a platform to pitch to investors, mentors and accelerator managers. They also receive regular support from the team at the SETsquared Bath Incubation Centre which includes access to mentors, investor readiness training and help in finding the private investment needed, including specialist sector support from the Sustainable Technology Business Acceleration Hub

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