Creating Something from Nothing

Ethiopian sugar refineries used to dump tons of molasses- a by-product of sugar production- into rivers, polluting the environment. In 2004, Finchaa Sugar Company recognized the potential for converting waste molasses into ethanol and invited Gaia to introduce CleanCook stoves to create demand for ethanol fuel.

Ethanol’s Bright Future

The Ethiopian Gaia Association was founded as a nonprofit organization in 2005 to carry on work with ethanol cookstoves. Gaia has provided thousands of households with clean stoves and ethanol fuel, taking advantage of domestic ethanol production.

Currently, Ethiopia produces approximately 30 million liters of ethanol annually. Over the next few years, the Ethiopian government expects to increase ethanol production, with new sugar mills and distilleries to come on line, including Tendaho Sugar Factory.

With the success of Gaia’s studies and projects, the Ethiopian Government has made ethanol for cookstoves a priority. The National Biofuels Policy plan promotes ethanol both for stoves and for blending with gasoline as a transport fuel.

A Democratic Fuel

Gaia routinely refers to ethanol as a “democratic fuel,” meaning it creates opportunities to include a variety of people in its production, particularly those who may be marginalized for economic or social reasons, such as poor outgrowers or women.

In Ethiopia, this is exemplified by the recently inaugurated Addis Ababa micro distillery. The distillery is owned and operated by the Former Women Fuelwood Carriers Association (FWFCA), a local women’s cooperative. Once selling fuelwood as a source of income, the FWFCA women are now critical agents in the ethanol value chain and will sell the fuel their distillery produces to fellow FWFCA members and the surrounding community.

Small is Beautiful – and Sustainable

An additional advantage of ethanol is its scalability: it can be produced at virtually any scale, large or small. This is particularly relevant to small communities where farmers struggle to make ends meet.

Producing food and fuel is one of the best ways to ensure food security, especially in a nation like Ethiopia. Cultivating crops that can provide both food and fuel helps communities thrive by creating new markets for farmers’ produce (and often its waste), enabling them to earn extra income and grow more food.

In Ethiopia, Gaia is partnering with communities to replicate micro distillery projects across the country. Communities grow their own food, produce their own fuel, and secure energy independence, advancing locally-driven and sustainable development.

Commercialization: Mainstreaming the Solution

Conversely, ethanol can also be produced on a much larger scale. Gaia is working together with local private sector partners to scale up ethanol and ethanol cookstove production and distribution across Ethiopia. Developing local ethanol and ethanol cookstove supply chains will enable clean household energy to become a reality for every family in Ethiopia.


Addis Ababa Commercial Pilot & Scale-up, 2006 | Former Women Fuelwood Carriers Association pilot, 2006 | Good Shepherd Sisters, 2006-13 | US Environmental Protection Agency, Commercialization Addis, 2011 | Nordic Climate Facility, Stockholm Environment Institute, 2011-13 | World Bank – Biomass Energy Initiative for Africa, 2010-14 | Strategic Climate Institutions Programme (SCIP), 2013-14

Project Gaia

Fact: Millions of tons of waste products such as molasses and cheese whey are dumped into rivers every year, killing living organisms and de-oxygenating ecosystems. Project Gaia strives to put this waste to use in the production of clean burning ethanol.

About Ethiopia

  • Population | 92 million
  • Income | 98¢ per day
  • 95% burn solid fuels
  • 2.8% have access to clean fuels
  • 95% deforested

Our Work

  • Commercialization
  • Ethanol Stove Study
  • Four Microdistillery Projects
  • Feedstock Study
  • National Feasibility Study
  • Health Study
  • Economic Study
  • Policy


Why Is Cooking Important?