Clean Tech

Ideas Unlimited: Innovations that wait to be upscaled

Preeti Mehra | Updated on October 02, 2019 Published on September 25, 2019

The team at ecoZen Solutions

Given the requisite push, Indian innovators can help mitigate climate change, says Preeti Mehra

Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Today, we are lucky to have many innovators among us who are showing the way to assuage or at least reduce the impact that climate change has already started having on planet earth. However, their ideas will be effective only when they come out of the silos they are currently in and get upscaled to make a difference to a larger area and population.

Among innovators there are several categories — some who tinker with existing technology to make it less polluting, others who go back to the basics to address challenges, and still others who create an entirely new system or product that moves technology to the next level and fits it neatly into the “clean” bracket.

Innovations to save the environment are happening the world over, with India too pitching in with hundreds of new ideas and projects. While some are micro solutions relevant only to specific sectors and geographies, others have the potential to scale up into major businesses that can take the bull by the horns and make some difference to climate mitigation.

In order to showcase some of the Indian innovations that have the potential to scale up, last fortnight, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – India held its first Innovation Summit and Exhibition in New Delhi, bringing on the platform 20 innovators from across the country.

Sorted under the themes of Clean Energy, Resilient and Sustainable Agriculture, Air Pollution, Waste as a resource, Electric Mobility, Sustainable and Affordable Cooling, Water Management and Governance, the innovations have the potential to create a buzz and contribute to the urgent need to reduce the spectre of global warming. Here’s taking a look at some of the innovations:

Rooftop wind energy

On the renewable energy front, Avatar, a small wind turbine built by Avant Garde Innovations, stands out. The 1kw turbine, which can power homes, offices or farms, comes at a price less than an iPhone. While rooftop solar is known throughout the country, this rooftop wind installation is one of a kind. Working on gearless technology, it costs a mere Rs. 60,000 and is designed specifically for Indian conditions.

“There were no decentralised solutions for wind energy here and importing a small turbine from Europe or the US costs around Rs. 7 lakh in conversion rates, and even that does not adhere to Indian wind conditions. We designed the Avatar keeping in mind domestic needs. After extensive R&D and field testing, we now have a product that requires the lowest wind speed and is one of the most efficient in the world,” says innovator Arun George, who manufactures it in Gujarat, recognised under the ‘Make in India’ plank.

But Avatar, which has opened a new sector in renewables, comes with both challenges and opportunities. George points out that there is lack of awareness among citizens about the benefits of wind products. “As in the case of rooftop solar, the government needs to fix a subsidy for the small wind turbine to woo consumers as they look for such benefits.” George has executed a project for the naval base in Kochi, for Unilever in Lavasa and a farmer in Kutch. He is getting a lot of orders from Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa, making the small turbine a product also suited for export.

Tackling air pollution

Three IIT Delhi innovators got together to tackle one of the biggest spoilsports of clean air — the diesel generator, which is widely used by industry and individuals as a power back-up. With it being responsible for a substantial amount of fine particulate matter, PM2.5, research shows that 16 per cent of Delhi’s pollution, 9 per cent of Chennai’s pollution and 25 per cent of Bengaluru’s pollution comes from this one source.

With the single-point agenda to improve air quality, the three co-founders established their start-up, Chakr Innovation, and built Chakr Shield, the world’s first retro-fit emission control device for diesel generators.

Chakr Shield captures up to 90 per cent PM emissions from the exhaust of generators and can be retrofitted to generators ranging from 15KVA to 2000KVA. What’s more, the captured pollution is converted into usable products such as ink and paint.

“We have filed for patents in India and the US, and manufacture the product in Pune. Currently, 60 to 70 devices are deployed by a large number of industries, including the Tatas, Titan, Mahindra World City, ICICI, Indian Oil, DS Group and IIT Delhi and we have grown to 65 employees,” says Kushagra Srivastava, the CEO and Co-founder.

He recalls the challenges they faced while developing the prototype and setting up manufacturing. “Working capital is a huge challenge, but winning the UN Environment Young Champions of the Earth award last year for Asia and the Pacific region made a difference,” says Kushagra, explaining that the product can improve Delhi NCR’s ambient air by 16 to 18 per cent and if used for a localised application, its efficacy goes up 50 to 60 per cent.

Solar-powered cold room

Wanting to put their learning to use, three students of IIT Kharagpur found that farmers close to their campus and in other parts of the country did not have sufficient access to power to be able to save the perishable produce they cultivated.

To address the need, they formed start-up ecoZen Solutions and among the products they built was Ecofrost, a farm- to-fork portable solar-powered cold room that can keep perishable items such as flowers, fruits and vegetables fresh for an extended period of time.

“We first introduced farmers to solar-based irrigation and found that though this resulted in their land turning from barren to green and increasing productivity, it wasn’t generating the required income due to massive wastage of perishables. So, we designed our cooling device using solar energy and thermal energy storage back-up. Our new offering, the Ecofrost Link, is a modular version that can enable any insulated room to be a solar-powered cold room,” says CEO Devendra Gupta, as he explains the process of connecting farmer to traders and the markets.

The company has deployed around 150 units on the field and hopes to spread this vital product to many more energy-starved areas of the country.

A host of ideas

Apart from the above three, UNEP has chosen 17 other path-breaking green technologies for their innovation platform this year.

“We plan to make this an annual event,” says Atul Bagai, head of UN Environment India Country Office.

“Our office is new to India and we were looking to doing something that would be our signature event. At another level, a lot of start-ups are happening (in the environment space). We wanted to bring something to the table of value.”

Bagai hopes that highlighting these scalable ideas and connecting them with businesses will make a substantial difference. “We do not invest enough on solid innovation and research. We need to go many leaps and bounds forward,” he concludes.

The future is waiting.

Published on September 25, 2019
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