With climate change becoming a looming existential threat, the world is now moving away from thermal sources of energy and switching to renewables. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also pledged at the COP26 Climate Conference that India would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070.
But this cannot be achieved without the help of startups, and many of them are stepping up their game to help India transition to clean energy.
Among them is Bengaluru-headquartered incubated at IIM-Bangalore and backed by Tata Trust, Tata Power (TP-DDL), Delhi government, and Karnataka government.
– a clean power generation startup that is building next-generation power plants that have zero emissions and are capable of storing long-duration grid-scale energy. It was
Registered in 2016 by husband-wife duo Vijay Prateik and Megha Rawat, the startup ties up with energy generators, refineries etc to help them save excess energy and use it when there is a greater need for energy. The founding team included four other members who helped build the product but are no longer associated with the startup.
Their engine is designed using the thermodynamic cycle, which they have been working on since 2011, with pilots beginning in 2017.
During the paid pilot, it planted up to 50kW capacity in Delhi and Bengaluru. The startup is working on a sale with a refinery, a global fashion brand as well as Indian Army and Navy.
The 12-member startup is bootstrapped with an investment of close to Rs 50 lakh from the founders, their friends and family.
“Essentially, our problem statement focuses on two points,” Vijay tells YourStory.
As of December 2021, India’s total installed renewable capacity is 151.39 GW, as per data from the Central Electricity Authority – which accounts for only 38 percent of total power generation. One of the reasons behind this is that renewables are known for their intermittent energy generation, and Indian power grids are not built for intermittency or unpredictability; they need stable energy flow.
A possible solution involves the energy to be stored in batteries wherein excess energy can be stored during daytime or when renewables are generating power, and use them when there is a lack of power. The requirement for baseload power generators, thermal power plants and nuclear power would be reduced.
“The problem is that today, there is no such energy storage system,” he adds.
Lithium-ion batteries can provide power for a few minutes. However, grids need energy storage that can last for a day or at least 18 hours at grid scale.
“We are solving from a longer-term perspective when we talk about power plants and energy storage at grid scale. We want to produce power plants that can store energy for very long durations on grid-scale,” explained Vijay.
While electrochemical energy storage is excellent for frequency regulation, deMITasse’s technology is being built to maintain grid-parity for hours and days, and can even be used for seasonal energy storage applications.
On the other hand, India loses out on an average of 20,000 megawatt-hours of thermal energy every year from power plants, Vijay says, which he adds is a conservative estimate. A lot of this is waste heat is low-grade energy that has the temperature of exhaust below 200 to 250 degrees Celsius.
While conserving this energy and reusing it would give the grid a boost, the prevailing technology prevailing cannot absorb heat and convert it to electricity, and the ones available are very expensive and fail to capture heat about below 150 degrees Celsius.
“As we use material with very low boiling points of working fluid, it can utilise this waste heat, even up to 60-70 degrees Celsius,” added Vijay. “Further, our technology can convert this energy into electricity, which can either be used again by the industrial unit where it is running, or it could send this power back to the public. So this is a big problem that exists, and we are aiming to solve it.”
Solving for energy
Vijay and his founding team dropped out of colleges such as MIT and Cornell to pursue this mission.
Being fascinated with energy during his college days as a personal project, Vijay worked on a Small Hydro Power (SHP) plant design that could be installed in remote villages in places like Uttarakhand which have low-velocity streams that could be harnessed for small scale power generation. They also approached the Ministry of New Renewable Energy (MNRE) for support.
When they realised that India still lagged behind in producing renewable energy, they decided to work on sustainability to create an energy storage system for the power grid. Megha, who had her own sustainable fashion brand that promoted upcycle goods, decided to join Vijay to work on solving this problem.
“When we were starting out, we saw that the industry was very cash-intensive,” added Vijay. “However, clearly not much was being done in this area which is obviously not the solution. So we decided to give it a shot.”
Being a bootstrapped startup, the startup’s primary challenge was limited capital, considering the equipment can be extremely expensive and a couple of the materials needed to be imported.
On this front, deMITasse Energies received a lot of industry feedback from Tata Power and Escorts Limited and helped build initial PoCs (Proof of Concept).
Despite our country producing engineers in droves, Vijay says finding the right talent can be a task.
“Finding talent is very difficult. When you do find them, they prefer working in companies like Boeing and LSE, and getting them to work for a bootstrapped startup becomes even more difficult,” added Vijay.
deMITasse Energies is in talks to set up a plant in Denver, US. It is also looking to raise capital this year, which would be used towards expanding their team, and expanding to the US.
Currently, the startup’s plans to make revenues by selling the plant. But, in the future, deMITasse Energies plans to have a power plant and sell energy on a subscription basis.
To achieve this, it also has a plan to set up an R&D centre to develop a large-scale plant
Currently, the company offers waste heat recovery systems to capture waste or process heat from industrial plants and existing power plants, diesel generator replacements and energy storage solutions for moderate to large capacity applications, including renewable power plants and industrial units.
It has set up six full-scale recovery pilot plants and several lab-scale prototypes.
“We also have several products for the military, and are currently working with the Indian and United States military,” adds Vijay.
Market and competition
India doesn’t have many startups venturing into the clean energy space as it requires high investment and is cost-intensive. deMITasse Energies competes with heavily funded startups that are based out of the US, the UK and northern Europe.
Companies like Malta, Highview Power, LightSail Energy (now shut down), Quidnet Energy, Ambri, ESS, Gravitricity operate in long-duration energy storage space. Meanwhile, its competitors in the waste heat recovery business include Thermax, Triveni, Thyssenkrupp, Siemens, Atlas Copco, and Turboden.
Many Indian startups face the challenge of convincing people about the need for energy storage in India or the technology used. However, the situation is changing as foreign investors are venturing into the market seeing the need to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.
In a February 2021 report, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) highlighted that India will require a further $500 billion in investment in new wind and solar infrastructure, energy storage, and grid expansion and modernisation which includes battery storage to reach 450 gigawatts (GW) of capacity by 2030.
India is currently investing around $18-20 billion in energy generation capacity and a further $20 billion in the grid on an annual basis, said IEEFA in an August 2021 report.
The same report mentioned that in the first four months of the financial year 2021, from April to July 2021, investment in the Indian renewable energy sector reached $6.6 billion, surpassing the $6.4 billion level for FY 2020-21 and on track to easily overtake the $8.4 billion total achieved in 2019-20 before the pandemic.