An aloe vera battery? That’s what Nimisha Varma, a 25-year-old entrepreneur from Jaipur, Rajasthan, is exploring through her startup Aloe Ecell.
In 2019, after finishing her engineering at the Technical University of Rajasthan, Varma and her friend Naveen Suman co-founded the green fuel startup to explore ways to make an eco-friendly battery from natural extracts, replacing toxic components and dangerous. batteries and can be safely disposed of as it does not cause soil degradation or air pollution.
The duo experimented with using plant extracts as electrolytes instead of harmful chemicals. This included testing apple, cucumber, potato and other natural elements for their effectiveness as an electrolyte for a 1.5 volt battery. Eventually, after several attempts and experiments, the startup found aloe vera as a good source of electrolytes for these eco-friendly batteries.
In 2019, the team developed its first prototype of an eco-friendly battery.
“Initially, we worked in the electronic waste (e-waste) sector. During our work, we realized that most electronic waste comes from small used batteries that are used in many electronic gadgets. So we decided to change the composition of the batteries and tried to replace the chemical and hazardous parts with eco-friendly alternatives,” Varma told Mongabay-India.
She pointed out that they have completed the second pilot project with more than 1,500 users and they are all set to bring the product to market soon, while work is also underway to bring in environmentally friendly rechargeable batteries.
This is a niche where biogas could be used for recharging. One cubic meter of biogas produces up to 1.5 units of electricity.
Rajesh Ayappasur, Director of Business Development and Partnerships, GPS Renewables
Varma claimed that in conventional batteries, the majority of battery parts are imported. She said conventional batteries have the potential to explode and release toxic materials leading to water, soil and air pollution, which their batteries can avoid due to the natural products used as a source. fuel.
Similar to Varma’s company, Bengaluru-based GPS Renewables is also a startup working to counter the dangers of conventional fuels. The company recently installed an electric vehicle (EV) charging station in Mumbai that runs on biogas produced from waste.
GPS Renewables is known for popularizing the production of biogas from food waste in over 100 private and public institutions across the country and using it as a substitute for LPG for cooking. The use of biogas to charge electric vehicles was a new experiment on their part to meet the growing demand for electric vehicle charging stations.
“This is a niche where biogas could be used to charge electric vehicles. It was our first project of this kind. Knowing that one cubic meter of biogas produces up to 1.5 units of electricity, we planned to use it to recharge electric vehicles. In many cases, EVs do not cause emissions, but if coal-based thermal energy is used to charge EVs, it ends up causing emissions. If we use biogas as an energy source to charge electric vehicles, we can make the whole process cleaner,” said Rajesh Ayappasur, Director (Business Development and Partnerships) at GPS Renewables, Mongabay-India.
The company partnered with the local municipal body for the collection of organic food waste to produce biogas which would then be used to charge electric vehicles. It is also studying whether it could be extended in the future.
However, based on previous experiences of waste-to-energy plants, which drew protests from local residents, Ayappasur said, “Such problems arise when there is dry waste or mixed waste, but in our case, the source of the waste is organic kitchen waste which is handled internally without causing piles of trash in local areas or any foul smells,” he said.
Innovations to combat agricultural residues
Besides biogas, several other forms of biofuel production often release by-products such as carbon dioxide, especially when processing agricultural residues and other biomass during the production of bioethanol (a biofuel).
Bioethanol is now purchased by petroleum marketing companies to blend into gasoline under the federal government’s National Ethanol Blending Program, aimed at reducing crude oil imports and moving towards a fuel regime cleaner. After hitting the 10% blend target earlier, the government is now aiming for a 20% blend of gasoline and ethanol by 2025-2026.
However, Chandigarh-based Jap Innogy (JAP) founded by DS Mahal, which has more than three decades of global experience in the energy, natural resources and biofuels industries, is trying to capture the carbon dioxide.
“Carbon dioxide is a major by-product when cellulosic biofuel refineries use enzymatic fermentation of biomass and it has good potential for additional revenue. We have a robust engineering design in place to deploy to sell this by-product as “renewable carbon dioxide or bioCO2”.
Simply put, we will capture the carbon dioxide, purify it and transform it into liquid/gaseous form to food grade standards, which means a purity level of 99.99%. Usually, until now, all carbonated beverages use the chemical carbon dioxide, however, with the use of this renewable carbon dioxide, these beverage manufacturers can proudly display the “Renewable-CO2/BioCO2” mark on their packaging. , which adds immense value to their brand. to be environmentally conscious,” Mahal told Mongabay-India.
He said that while heading the biofuel operations and projects division in a large Dutch multinational, he was the first in India (and Asia) to lead and produce bio CO2 in 2015- 16. The company has completed all pre-project activities and stakeholder alignments and is progressing through the final stages of official launch.
Chandigarh-based Mahal also works in processing 32 different types of second-generation feedstocks like agricultural residues (rice straw, wheat straw, corn stalks, bagasse, cotton stalk, various grasses, etc.) and forestry waste (wood chips, shrubs, pine needles, etc.) to reduce stubble burning and bring in these potential pollutants for the production of bioethanol – a renewable energy source.
Outside of urban centers, biofuel innovations are also occurring in semi-urban and rural areas. Based in Wai in Maharashtra, Yash Joshi has been working for five years on the torrefaction (thermal pre-treatment) of agricultural residues to enable more efficient use of these “low-end” raw materials and wastes (by-products) for heat production. , electricity and chemicals.
Roasting refers to the technology used to improve the combustible properties of these agricultural residues, allowing them to be used in combustion and gasification processes with higher yields and lower emissions.
“Globally, combustors and high-efficiency gasifiers based on biomass fuels are forced to use white wood pellets as raw materials. Although these pellets have favorable combustion properties, they are very expensive (about five times the price of coal on an energy basis) which makes operations unviable without subsidies. In recent decades, European utilities have instead experimented with torrefied wood pellets, which promised even better heat performance but at even higher costs than white wood pellets,” he told Mongabay- India.
“However, the real game-changer has been the ability to roast and upgrade the low-grade materials like rice straw, wheat straw, sugar cane waste that we are currently doing in India, which opens up possibilities to use a cheaper raw material source. as an input, thus improving the viability of bio-based processes. We have continuously developed the technology over the past five years with very promising test results. We are now developing the invention to a scale that would be commercially deployable,” Joshi said.
Joshi, who previously worked in the energy sector in the Netherlands, returned to India in 2017 and founded Aganvay Technologies – a company that provides end-to-end product research and development services for the sector. renewable energies, in particular to move emerging innovations from the laboratory to the field. He developed the torrefaction technology for Amsterdam-based start-up TorrGreen and says the technology can help India boost the use of low-cost biomass resources to generate electricity and fuels like bio -methanol while reducing environmental threats such as stubble burning. .
Apart from these cleantech companies, there are many startups in India offering new solutions for the renewable energy sector. According to a joint report released by Climate Trends and Climate Dot, India ranks third in the world after the United States and China when it comes to the size of startups. However, the report claimed that the Indian government must secure climate finance for cleantech startups if it is to achieve its net zero emissions goals.
Akhilesh Magal, director of ClimateDot, said these cleantech startups could play a key role in transforming the fight against climate change, but they needed dedicated government support to achieve their goal. The report claims that Indian government programs such as Startup India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat have helped the sector, but most startups are still in metropolitan cities or on university campuses, but to spread across the country. , they need support, as well as appropriate policy and financial support.
According to government data as of June 30, 2022, India has a total of 72,933 registered startups, but among them, about 48% (34,473) are confined to metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad , Bengaluru, Pune. , and Ahmedabad. On July 27, the Union Department of Trade and Industry told parliament that a total of 3,300 startups are working in the climate action sector providing solutions for renewable energy growth.
This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.