Bengaluru-based energy startup Grassroots Energy (GRE), which is aiming to transform lives in rural India through its green power technology, has got a much-needed shot in the arm. The US Agency for International Development has awarded it with the `1.98 crore PACEsetter Grant Fund for ‘Waste to energy-innovation at a small scale’ that would act as a propellant for its reliable and sustainable energy solutions initiative.
It is a joyous moment for the founders—Mateen Abdul and US-based Firas Ahmad and Donald Tilton—that their dream project is among the nine projects that have been awarded grants under a bilateral agreement signed between the Indian and US governments. There were 150 applicants.
“Support from the villages and communities have been encouraging. We will start setting up mini-grids at three locations in Bihar in December 2016. Dutch foundation DOEN has granted `1.86 crore to GRE for testing models for Bihar,” says Abdul, GRE’s director, who has been living in Bengaluru for the past 14 years. He met Ahmad and Tilton in the US in 2012 and they have been working on the waste-to-energy project since then. After working on it for two years, they set up GRE in 2015.
“We operate in the areas, where reliable energy is a challenge, majority of people engage in agricultural activities, which generate energy-rich waste, that can be processed to tackle the energy crisis,” says Abdul, who has been engaged with the project’s market assessment and stakeholder management.
While another director, Firas Ahmad, a Harvard graduate, manages technology, supplier relationships and partnerships from the US, technology director Tilton, an expert in Stirling systems technology, works for off-grid solutions.
“GRE sets up mini-grids using bio-energy in off-grid locations in India using the local agri and farm resources. The organic waste is used as a feedstock and is processed and converted into biogas,” says Abdul, who was born and brought up in Hyderabad.
GRE’s innovative micro-CHP (combined heat and power) solution can use multi-biomass as fuel and is designed to run on a continuous basis.
The residue of the biogas plant can be used in the crops to increase the farm yield. This helps farmers reduce dependence on chemical fertilisers. “Farmers will earn for their farm waste, which was otherwise discarded or had a low economical value,” says Abdul, who has 13 years of experience with automotive majors and energy start-ups.
An MBA from Babson College, Boston, Abdul isn’t scared of taking risk. “In biomass-based systems, the consumers get reliable power supply, thus replacing diesel back-up or need for large battery storage. GRE also remediates waste that would decompose in the environment contaminating ground water,” says Abdul.
Households can also replace harmful kerosene with clean energy, thereby saving on their expenditure.
The cost of setting up a plant varies depending upon the type of customers—school, bank and telecom towers, small shops and household. The start-up is initially planning to connect 80-100 houses and shops through one plant.
“Do you know that 30 to 40 per cent of vegetables and fruits in rural areas is spoilt due to lack of storage facilities? This problem can be solved by using dehydrating using the thermal energyfrom the micro-CHP, thus increasing the shelf life of the farmer’s produce,” Abdul says.
GRE also plans to expand to other emerging economies in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa in future.
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