With its rising population and rapid industrialisation, India faces a challenge common to many countries around the world: how to produce more energy while reducing carbon emissions and local air pollution.

Three start-ups in India - Graviky Labs, Smart Joules and Carbon Masters - believe they may have some answers. Their ideas range from capturing carbon emissions from cars and improving the energy efficiency of buildings to turning Bangalore’s waste into gas.

They were picked from more than 50 companies as part of the Shell #makethefuture Accelerator programme in India, which aims to collaborate with and encourage the development of ideas from start-ups for more and cleaner energy solutions.

The finalists presented their pitches to a panel of judges at the opening of the new Shell Technology Centre Bangalore last March. It was won by Graviky Labs, which developed a method of capturing air pollution and turning it into ink.

Graviky Labs captures vehicle emissions and then transforms them into art ink.

Winner: Nikhil Kaushik, 30

Co-founder, Graviky Labs, Bangalore

Graviky Labs captures vehicle emissions and then transforms them into art ink.

"I was born in Delhi where pollution has always been a fact of life. But over the last two years, people have felt the problem becoming worse because of increased traffic and industry.

In response, we developed Kaalink. It is a metal device fitted on vehicle exhaust pipes to capture soot and render it harmless.

Graviky Labs removes heavy metals and carcinogens from the soot and then treats the purified carbon with chemicals to turn it into black ink. Traditionally, a pigment called carbon black is used to make black ink; but it is created by burning fossil fuels.

Our ink, which is popular with artists, is called Air-Ink. One 30ml pen of Air-Ink captures the amount of emissions you would get after running a vehicle for approximately 40 to 50 minutes.

We have been on a constant journey of learning. We originally knew nothing about ink, let alone selling and exporting it; so we have listened to experts, correcting our mistakes as we go.

Earlier this year we completed our crowdfunding exercise, raising SIN$40,000 (around US$28,000).

When artists write to us asking to buy our ink, we usually find a way to sell it to them, whether they be in Berlin, New York or London.

We hope to eventually get Air-Ink out to retail stores around the world by working with wholesalers, like art equipment suppliers.

We hope the Shell #makethefuture Accelerator programme will help us reach other companies that are concerned about pollution. Our expectation is simple: we have this technology and we want to scale-up.

The world needs as many people as possible to work together to solve its problems. And when it comes to a problem like air pollution, especially in India, there can never be a monopoly on solutions."

Smart Joules aims to make India's buildings and factories more energy efficient and save money.

Arjun Gupta, 31

Founder & CEO, Smart Joules, New Delhi

Smart Joules aims to make India's buildings and factories more energy efficient and save money.

"I grew up in Delhi in a nice house in an upscale neighbourhood called Civil Lines. Even then, I remember that the power in our house would cut off for about four to six hours a day in summers.

These brownouts, periods of low power or none at all, would sometimes occur at night. With temperatures in the city soaring to 42 degrees Celsius, our family would jump into the car, turn on the air-conditioning and sleep.

When I think back on it now, I am stunned at how privileged we were to burn petrol to cool ourselves, whereas people who worked in my house and lived just 10km away couldn't even turn on the lights.
Brownouts still happen today and many houses and businesses in India have backup diesel generators.

Buildings in India spend as much as 50% of their costs on air conditioning. Yet more than 90% of the central air conditioning systems in Indian commercial buildings do not function properly because of outdated technologies and lack of expertise.

Smart Joules aims to fill these gaps by offering businesses a system that continuously and automatically reduces wasted energy. Customers get our technology for free but they pay us a 70% share of the savings delivered for five years.

For now, Smart Joules is focused on commercial buildings in urban India. Later, we plan to expand to other industrial segments as well as the rest of the developing world – places like South-east Asia, South America and Central America.

Much of what we do is driven by the desire to correct climate, economic and social injustice. The underprivileged in urban areas share the same electricity grid as the rich, so if we reduce energy wastage and consumption in big buildings, there could be more energy for everyone."

Carbon Masters produces a biogas product that can be used in commercial kitchens

Som Narayan, 31

Co-founder, Carbon Masters, Bangalore

Carbon Masters produces a biogas product that can be used in commercial kitchens.

"I recognise that India has a huge waste management problem. Bangalore, where I live, generates over 2,000 tons of organic waste a day.

Most of it ends up in overflowing landfills, causing health problems and emitting methane. At the same time, Bangalore's restaurants use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders in their kitchens.

In 2008, I pursued a master’s degree in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh. It was there that I met my business partner, Kevin Houston, who had been inspired to attend the course after watching Al Gore’s global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

We decided we could convert waste into natural gas, and store it in cylinders which restaurants can use. That was how Carbonlites was born. We started selling it in 2015 and have now signed up six restaurants. Among them are the Konark and Adiga, which are famous in Bangalore, as well as the Woodlands Hotel.

Because Carbonlites burns longer than LPG, it saves costs by about 10 to 15%, which works out to significant savings for restaurants. Kitchen cooking generally requires two bars of gas which Carbonlites can deliver consistently.

Carbonlites provides consistent heat. One chef said it was the only product that allowed him to achieve an even golden brown colour on vada, a fried dough snack from South India.

Biogas has a mixed reputation in India because projects in the past have not worked. I like to think we have managed to correct that impression. We want to do for biogas what Elon Musk did for electric cars with Tesla. Because of him, every major motor manufacturer is now looking to make electric vehicles.

India has a tremendous quantity of biomass which can be turned into a huge renewable energy business. The day big corporations flood into India to tap into this potential is the day we would have achieved success."

Interviews by Soh Chin Ong


* Shell has expanded its support for start-ups in India with the launch of the Shell E4 programme. It is open to energy startups in early, pilot or post-pilot stages. Those selected will receive six months of technical and commercial mentorship, a fixed sum investment, access to Shell's technology and IT centres in Bangalore and co-location with other like-minded energy start-ups. 

Applications close on 17 November 2017. For more information and to apply, please click below:

Shell's E4 programme for energy start-ups


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