Interview: Mateen Abdul

CEO and Co-founder at Grassroots Energy

Grassroots Energy is currently pursuing feasibility studies on BioHydrogen in the UK and India

December 29, 2022. By Manu Tayal

We are developing a new, innovative Bio-Hydrogen two-stage production process, which removes the need for energy-intensive feedstock sterilization and can produce nearly 100 per cent H2 using organic waste. Grassroots Energy’s biphasic anaerobic digestion system with isolated microbes will be a first of its kind. We are currently pursuing technical and economic feasibility studies in the UK and India on BioHydrogen.

In an exclusive interaction series with startup companies in the energy and mobility space, Manu Tayal, Senior Associate Editor, Energetica India, interacted with Mateen Abdul, CEO and Co-founder, Grassroots Energy. Here’re the edited excerpts from that interaction:

Que: Tell Energetica India Magazine readers in brief about Grassroots Energy including its vision.

Ans: Grassroots Energy is a Bioenergy startup with operations in distributed energy. Our mission is to end energy poverty and rejuvenate soils.

Que: What is your approach toward a circular economy in achieving sustainability?

Ans: Grassroots Energy generates reliable and cost-effective clean fuels like Biogas, Biomethane and Green Hydrogen. Our circular economy approach provides two climate change solutions: clean fuels and organic fertilizers. The carbon from the generation is captured to produce carbon-negative clean fuels in a distributed way. Clean fuels are offered to communities and industries for sustainable solutions. The innovations include microbial, mechanical, and chemical to offer a modular clean fuel generation. The residue from operations is processed into fortified and enriched organic fertilizers, which can be carbon sequestered.

Que: How did the idea of forming Grassroots Energy come into existence?

Ans: The reason to start Grassroots Energy is the wide availability of Agri and Farm waste, while last mile energy is a challenge. The idea is to use one resource to solve the other problem. We have significant experience in emerging markets and last-mile distributed energy.

Que: Coalitions with other companies and government projects?

Ans: Grassroots Energy has partnered with Tata Power to offer BioCNG for their mini-grid business to make a transition to 100 per cent clean fuel mini-grids.

Que: Company’s installation goals and bio-CNG production targets?

Ans: Grassroots Energy serves Biomethane to the mini-grids in a hub and spoke model. We have long-term agreements with the mini-grid operators to serve clean fuel. The mini-grid operators will replace the fossil fuel generators with gas generators and have Biomethane storage on the mini-grid premises. Surplus Biomethane is used by the community as cooking fuel as a replacement for LPG.

Que: Shed some light on your business model, key offerings, and current market performance.

Ans: We have two Business Models:

Model 1:
Built-Own-Operate long term off-take agreements with leading corporates, multiple revenue streams

Model 2:
Technology licensing with multiple revenue streams

Grassroots Energy’s BioHydrogen approach:

We are developing a new, innovative Bio-Hydrogen two-stage production process, which removes the need for energy-intensive feedstock sterilization and can produce nearly 100 per cent H2 using organic waste. Grassroots Energy’s biphasic anaerobic digestion system with isolated microbes will be a first of its kind.

We are currently pursuing technical and economic feasibility studies in the UK and India on BioHydrogen.

Using novel and proprietary microbial strains reduces the energy needed during the production process by 5-8X and produces almost zero CO2 emissions, saving money and improving efficiency in dark and photo fermentation processes.

Our proposed biorefinery concept will help recover maximum energy from organic waste with minimum GHG emissions. Proving the feasibility of this model will help us ensure the design of this biphasic system function to produce Bio‚ÄźHydrogen and biogas in the expansion of technology.

BioHydrogen Innovations will be realized across:

1. Sterile behavior: To the best of our knowledge, combined dark and photo fermentation without sterilizations of feedstock hasn’t been attempted before.

2. Species Optimization: use of proprietary optimized species which work synergistically to produce higher H2.

3. Efficient solution over electrolyzers

4. Photoreactor Scale-Up: Optimal photoreactor geometry for commercial scale operations hasn’t been established. This is essential to reduce both the plant footprint and the system’s efficiency of capturing radiation.

5. Photoreactor Material: Choosing an optimal material for photo reactors is important. The ideal material should allow infrared to pass, which is important for the growth of microbial consortia while being low-cost, with long-life and structural strength.

6. Optimal Use of Spectrum: Since photo-fermentation tends to absorb mostly the infrared segment of the radiation, for efficiency improvement, a mechanism is needed to absorb the visible spectrum of light.

Que: Need for more energy efficiency in Agribusinesses. Explain.

Ans: Grassroots Energy’s approach is toward natural soil regeneration and preventive care:

The residue from Biogas operations is rich input for organic fertilizers.

Leading international bodies like Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has termed the Biogas slurry as ‘Brown Gold’, whose potential is untapped. Grassroots Energy is enriching the biogas slurry and offering an alternative for small and marginal farmers to increase the crop yields, reducing the input costs with long term health benefits.

The value-addition process by Grassroots Energy to the biogas slurry results in a holistic product range:

a) Solid compost enriched with nutrients
b) 3-in-1 (growth promoter + nutrients + decomposer)
c) Humates enriched with iron and zinc.

Most of the rural areas have rich organic waste in distributed locations but at the same time, these locations have limited access to quality organic fertilizers. Sustained use of chemical fertilizers has eroded the topsoil and forced the farmers to increase the inputs which lead to an increase in costs while yields have remained constant or even fallen in some locations. Regenerative intervention is required to arrest the trend. If quality, processed and high-value organic fertilizers are processed and made available in rural locations, farmers can switch over from existing practices. The existing organic products in the market are either costly or uncertified, product awareness is missing or information about the use of the products in the right doses is lacking and accessibility is a challenge.

Protection of topsoil, micronutrients, organic carbon, and microbiology of soil, so essential for plant, human, and animal health and the immune system is possible by a close loop recycling of nutrients through biogas plant slurry based manuring systems.

Que: Expansion plans of Grassroots Energy?

Ans: Grassroots Energy has strategic partners in Mini-grids and Industrial segments. These partnerships will help to scale up the model with a production capacity of 100MT/Day BioCNG capacity in 4 years. We are also conducting feasibility studies in BioHydrogen for multiple end-use applications.

Que: Lastly, your incubation journey with Shell E4?

Ans: We have reaped many benefits basis our association with the Shell E4 start-up programme. We were able to access a vibrant co-working space at Shell Technology Centre Bangalore, arguably the leading energy research and development centre in India, for six months.

In addition to the above, our company was also offered seed funding of $20,000 and access to:

• State-of-the-art testing and prototyping laboratories for product development and testing;
• Bootcamps aimed at customer discovery and product improvement;
• Top industry mentors and experts;
• New markets and interactions with investors, and other growth and funding opportunities; and
• Potential opportunities to engage in pilots and deployments

The Shell startup ecosystem has helped us in reaching out to the decision-makers within and outside Shell. The engagement has been very valuable for us with technical, business and market insights.

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