Corporate File

Rising to the Covid challenge

Vinay Kamath | Updated on June 07, 2021

Chennai-based probiotics company Proklean Technologies helps Punjab paper mill free up life-saving gas for medical use

A couple of months ago, Proklean Technologies received an SOS from a paper mill in Punjab. With oxygen needed for critical medical use during the Covid-19 second surge, could the Chennai-based probiotics firm help the mill use less oxygen and pass it on to hospitals instead? The wheat straw-based paper pulp mill used 2.25 tonnes of oxygen a day, mainly to remove lignin from the feedstock, as well as for bleaching.

Proklean’s bio-friendly and biodegradable products help leather processing, textile processing, and pulp and paper industries reduce chemical usage. However, the paper mill’s oxygen-related request was an entirely new challenge for it.

Proklean immediately formed a team and prepared a plan. ProWhite, its flagship product for enhanced delignification and bleaching, was chosen for the trial. B Chandrasekhar, co-founder, explains how the dosage was estimated, protocol established and instructions outlined to the operating team consisting of Proklean’s executives and the paper mill’s engineers.

On April 24, ProWhite was fed into the paper mill’s manufacturing system as specified, and the oxygen feed was cut by 20 per cent. The team at site frequently updated the Chennai team. Hourly data showed that all parameters were stable and the paper quality was consistent. After four hours of monitoring, oxygen was cut by another 20 per cent. “However, paper brightness started to show a slight dip and, without increasing oxygen dosage, downstream chemicals were marginally increased to obtain the required brightness,” says Chandrasekhar.

The oxygen feed was further lowered to 50 per cent after eight hours. On the third day, it was close to 20 hours since oxygen had been cut off and the plant operations remained smooth and paper output consistent. Soon, Chandrasekhar was informed that the paper mill had diverted its oxygen entirely for medical emergencies. “A look at the overall chemical consumption, however, showed the paper mill had suffered a cost increase to compensate for lack of oxygen. By the third shift of April 30, the plant did not require oxygen for operations and the chemical cost was at its lowest,” he explains.

Using 135 kg a day of ProWhite, the mill saved on 2.25 tonnes of oxygen; 2.24 tonnes of caustic soda; 180 kg of hydrogen peroxide; and 180 kg of chlorine dioxide. Now, Proklean is working with paper mills around the country to help them cut oxygen usage as well.

A clean start

Proklean was founded in 2012 by Chandrasekhar, Vishwadeep Kuila (both engineers and MBAs from IIM Ahmedabad) and Sivaram Pillai, a PhD in biochemistry. “We use a consortium of naturally occurring, probiotic microbes for a fermentation process and, at the end of it, we come up with non-toxic and readily biodegradable formulations which can replace chemicals used in many industries,” Pillai says.

The process entails a low carbon footprint as fermentation typically needs temperature control and, after that, downstream processes are required to concentrate the ingredient of interest, he says. It is possible in ambient conditions, without any need to heat or cool. The fermentation takes 15 to 20 days. “We have done a carbon footprint analysis, and it’s about 80 per cent less compared to using existing chemicals,” says Pillai.

To compare, the textile industry typically uses chemical soaping agents to remove unfixed dyes from the fabric. With Proklean’s probiotic additives, says Pillai, there is a reduction in the chemicals used and the quantum of downstream effluents. “Overall, it is a green process that delivers good savings to the customer at prices comparable to the chemicals used,” adds Pillai.

Proklean’s production facility in Chennai has a capacity of 250 tonnes a month. The company’s revenues touched ₹14.5 crore in FY 20-21, up 25 per cent over the previous year, despite the lockdowns.

Last year, Proklean embarked on online sales of its floor cleaners and liquid detergent. Available only on Amazon and Flipkart, the online sales are seeing a 20-30 per cent increase every month.

Proklean has raised ₹16 crore in two rounds of funding, from the Chennai Angels, a network of angel investors, and Infuse Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund set up by the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship at IIMA, which invests in sustainability and clean energy sectors. Siana Capital came in in November 2019 with a ₹20 crore investment. “We had not gone for any more funding last year,” says Kuila. This year, they expect to raise $5-7 million, mostly from new investors, as, except Siana, the others have reached the end of the fund tenure. The funding will be for expansion to other countries, R&D and capacity expansion.

Published on June 06, 2021

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