Energy X: Waste Management and Renewable Energy Production Packed Into One Solution

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Gaurav Adhikari and his teammates are working towards solving problems in their community, mainly through the development of renewable energy solutions. They already have a business manufacturing custom metal prefabs but for the Smart Urban Tech Challenge (SUTC) they worked on the concept of waste management. Energy X is a way to help with the waste management crisis by collecting organic waste to produce biofuel.
When they found out that about 60-65% of the garbage produced here within Kathmandu valley is organic, they found a method to process the waste and turn it into bio-CNG fuel that could be used to power public transport. The concept is already in practice in a lot of places all over the world, but they want to make sure they do sufficient research so that it is adaptable to the unique conditions and challenges in Nepal. He emphasizes a need to be
adaptable and to help others learn and grow as well when it comes to entrepreneurship. Find out more about Energy X from our interview with Gaurav below.  

1. Could you give us a general introduction to your organization?
We know that there is a lack of solid waste management infrastructure in Kathmandu. Even when we spoke to people who picked up garbage they told us the space available at landfill sites is insufficient, sometimes there are landslides of waste in the landfill sites which prevents vehicles from accessing the area. We started doing some basic research on methods typically used to deal with garbage and the first thing we saw was incineration. Later we discovered that more than 65% of the waste is organic which requires much more energy to incinerate. We realized we needed to separate organic and inorganic waste. Our focus was to separate and acquire organic waste and turn it into biogas. 

We found that the best areas to use this compressed fuel was in public buses and vehicle services in the city. We planned on using it to produce methane and then compressing that gas to use it as fuel. When we did research we found that the fuel we would produce would give the vehicle twice the mileage it currently has. So, we started the Energy X group and wanted to present this idea at the Smart Urban Tech Challenge. It would help clean the environment, produce fuel and compost as well.

2. How many people on your team?
There are three of us working together on this idea, all of us studied mechanical engineering from Kathmandu University and now I’m doing an EMBA and they are both doing Master’s in Technology Innovation. One of my team members, Sanjay Bhandari and I also have a metals workshop of our own. Another friend Rojan Shrestha is learning and helping us with marketing. 

3. Do you have a registered company of your own?
No, we just presented this idea at the SUTC as the group Energy X, but we have a custom metal structure fabrication and erection as well as prefab erection and design & fabrication of machines company of our own that we started in 2071. We wanted to have a business of our own instead of working at a job. Through running the business we learned how to adapt to the market. Initially, we were manufacturing the metallic rocket stove or chulos. There was a good demand for that, we had finalized a design and had just signed a new contract when the Nepal earthquake happened. Understandably a lot of organizations started distributing similar chulos to families in need. We obviously couldn’t afford to do that so we had to switch course and moved towards steel structures for prefab houses because there was a demand for it. 

Now we design and make custom metal structures for various clients. We make custom machines and mechanisms as well, for example, we recently made a bioreactor for the biotech department at the TU as well as Emulsion Sprayer for the Department of Road Division Kathmandu e.t.c. We have our own ideas too but go according to what the market needs. It took us time to adapt to the situation but eventually, things got easier. We dealt with our failures and learned how to adapt because of them. 

Through our business, we’ve been helping other people too. People sometimes come to us to get some work experience and learn about our business to implement the same thing back in their villages and some have done so already. It is important to share your knowledge. Money is important too but you have to improve your own skills and other peoples too.

4. Have you seen this idea implemented anywhere else?
This idea is quite popular globally, even in Nepal there are a few companies that separate waste and produce fuel using organic materials but those fuels are typically used for household cooking purposes. Even though technology is prevalent in other countries it is difficult to apply the exact idea into our environment. It is important to take Nepal’s unique circumstances into account. If we think about using this fuel for vehicles, we have to consider the steepness of the roads, there are areas with a 40-degree gradient. My EMBA my thesis looks at the financial part of all this and it is still in progress. And my partners in Pulchowk are doing research on the technical aspects of the project, they’re doing the literature review and are moving towards the next steps in the research process. 

5. When do you plan on registering a company for Energy X?
We want to have a good prototype ready before we register our company. We also plan on going with the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. No one sector can handle everything, so we need to collaborate with all parties involved. When the public and the private sectors are responsible for dealing with the issue, we can move together in a united way. 

Right now, at home, I segregate all the waste and make fertilizer as well. We only throw plastic waste in the garbage. These are the changes we need to see in the community, they definitely are going to change and that will make the dumping much easier if it’s just plastic.

6. Do you plan on working on other issues as well?
You need improvisation in every field. If we can’t adapt, we can’t get anywhere. We have to continually keep improving our ideas and refining them. Once we have completed this idea, I am interested in hydrogen fuels and other innovative forms of renewable energy. I’m also very interested in the idea of generating energy using sewage. These are things that are difficult to do but it would be interesting. 

During my Bachelor’s I studied fuels, particularly biofuels. My thesis was a study on extracting fuel from Jatropha which is a seed that produces biodiesel. I went to Thailand to do some research for that and it was a good project. However, in the end, I found that it wasn’t feasible because of economic issues. Growing the plant required an extensive amount of land which could be better utilized as agricultural land, so that was a major issue too. 

7. What is the funding structure for this project?
Well, the government is providing a 40% subsidy for organizations working with renewable energy and solid waste management. Despite that, it can be difficult to fund the operation. If I need to process 25 tonnes of waste and need 20 crores to do that, they might give me 40% but how do I come up with the rest? We need investors for the idea but these laws and policies have to be clear or else people won’t invest. 

In terms of implementation, what would make things easier also is that petroleum products that we import can be quite expensive. This would be something that was locally made, locally produced so that might help with the cost. Once there is cost reduction and high value, and customer value as well.

8. What are your major challenges?
One of our initial challenges was regarding the compression of the methane fuel, the compression factor is about 1:5 which increases the wt. of the cylinder which will be hard for the transportation and handling for household use. After a lot of research, we found that the best application would be for public transport buses and vehicles in the Valley. 

Another thing was the collection of waste materials as well as government policy. Our government and sociopolitical climate are unique which pose certain challenges but also opportunities. The collection of segregated waste is a big issue. We need raw materials to produce the fuel consistently. That’s why people in the industry say “Waste in the wrong place is a landfill and waste in the right place is a resource.”

The technology for this concept is already well established, our research is just looking into how we can implement it here. However, Nepal has a very high risk of a marketing failure, if something fails then it won’t come back for another 10 years. The good thing about this concept is that everyone understands the concept of biogas. A few years ago there might have been more technical challenges but now we can make the process more efficient. 

9. Why did you want to work on this particular issue?
Solid waste management is a huge issue right now and in the next few years, we are going to have to get it under control. The landfill sites create emissions, toxic substances leach into the groundwater and pollute the environment around it. We know what the issues are and we are going to need a significant and abrupt intermission to make a significant difference in the coming years. We really have to invest everything we can into this cause if we want to see a change. 

For more information about Energy X, email Gaurav Adhikari at ginnovation4@gmail.com.

Interviewed and article by Jyotika Shah.