Technology

This woman-run startup uses crop residue to create bio-batteries


Solving three problems at once, Odisha startup Nexus Power uses crop remnants to create bio-organic, fast-charging batteries for electric vehicles

An old Biochemistry book from their grandfather’s library was the inspiration for Odisha-born sisters Nikita and Nishita Baliarsingh to create an electric vehicle (EV) battery from crop residue. “It is still so clear in my mind. There was a statement that read, ‘Proteins may have potential benefits in electrolytes’. That was the turning point. We pushed ourselves into continuous research and development and founded Nexus Power in April 2019,” recalls Nikita.

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Rewind to 2016, the EVsector was in its infancy with great potential but skewed demand. Buyers were not convinced of the efficacy of an EV battery over a traditional one. “This gap in the demand and supply forced us to investigate the root cause for the scepticism. Some of the main concerns were long charging time, high prices, and a paucity of local sources to procure lithium, and of course, the toxicity.”

According to a report by The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) in November 2020, a total of 5,30,560 EVs (two-wheelers, three-wheelers, cars, and buses) were sold in India. The Baliarsingh sisters aim to take EVs across vehicle segments. The current market caters mainly to low-speed electric two wheelers that use lithium. Nikita elaborates, “We spent almost six months only on theoretical research on bio-organic batteries. Our first prototype was built at home during the lockdown with simple household objects.”

The biodegradable batteries are fashioned from crop residue. “A cell consists of three structural elements – the cathode, anode and electrolyte. Our process of manufacturing plays with the chemistry of the cell and builds all these elements with nanodot proteins derived from crop residue. Our batteries are lithium ion-free. We procure the crop remains from local farmers, and by applying a unique extraction and filtration process, we manufacture rechargeable energy storing EV cells out of it,” explains Nikita.

The materials used at Nexus are derived from natural compounds, which are either underutilised or wasted by other industries. Procurement of crop waste helps the farmers in earning an additional income of ₹25,000 for every 100 batteries. The manufacturing process has been designed to ensure no element of the environment is exploited.

“We emphasise having a sustainable manufacturing process with a zero-waste model. The production of our batteries creates bio-fertiliser as by-products, which we intend to return to the market to facilitate a favourable agricultural yield. That way we ensure a circular and viable green model,” Nikita adds.

Looking to investors

While Nexus is built on sharp technology and lofty targets, the company is mostly bootstrapped. The fledgling company has received two fellowship grants of about ₹10 lakh from the Indian Government under its TIDE and NIDHI PRAYAS programme and through KIIT TBI (Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology- Technology Business Incubator), Bhubaneswar. While the EV sector is ripe for investment, most investors look to the lithium battery market.

Nikita is confident, however, that Indian consumers are ready for a “truly green” battery. “The major differentiator for Nexus is that ours is a truly ‘Made in India’, fast-charging battery, which aims to make electric mobility more affordable and efficient.”

Read More | Sales of EVs in India fell 20% in FY21 to 2,36,802 units: SMEV

The batteries charge eight to 10 times faster than conventional ones and last 20% to 30% longer. “Most importantly, once the batteries die, they can be recycled at no extra cost, which is not the case with the regular EV offerings.

Made out of bio-degradable material, the cells rule out toxicity hazards and using crop residue ensures that some of it is not burnt, which in turn protects from deterioraton of air quality. Our entire process is energy efficient and sustainable,” says Nishita.

The siblings have their eye on the new entrants in EV market. “Given a chance, Nexus would love to collaborate with big offerings such as Tesla and Indian vehicle makers like Tata, Mahindra, Hero and others. We are hopeful of collaborations with multiple two-wheeler EV manufacturers across the Asian region for our pilot programme, scheduled for Q3 or Q4 of 2021. A slightly long-term plan would be to develop Nexus batteries for four-wheelers and commercial e-vehicles. We also want to cater to the mobile phone and consumer electronics industry in the future,” concludes Nikita.

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