The Aerostrovilos Energy team: (From left) Rohit Grover, co-founder & CEO, Pradeep Thangappan, co-founder and COO, Dr Satyanarayanan, co-founder advisor, combustion expert
Aerostrovilos is made of two Greek words, one for air and the other that comes close to describing a turbine, Rohit Grover and Pradeep Thangappan had explained in a chat with Forbes India almost three years ago. With their IIT Madras-incubated venture Aerostrovilos Energy, they were hoping to become the makers of India’s first indigenous micro gas turbines for commercial use.
Their original timetable would have had them close to a commercial product this year, but even if the Covid pandemic had not happened, such are the challenges of deep-science-based ventures that getting everything right almost always takes longer than one initially anticipates. Ask Elon Musk if you like, whose full-stack tech at Tesla inspires Grover and Thangappan.
“We want to be the Tesla of micro gas turbines,” says Grover.
Their first small turbine will be a 100 kW unit that will be compact enough to sit below the cabin of a truck, to generate enough electricity that will easily run the vehicle. This combination of a fossil fuel burning gas turbine and an electric power train offers several advantages, including low emissions, especially when the day comes when hydrogen will be the fuel for the turbine, and much higher power-to-weight ratio.
Proprietary to Aerostrovilos is the combustion tech that the venture has developed in collaboration with IIT Madras’s National Centre for Combustion Research and Development (NCCRD). This patented tech makes the turbine they’re developing one that can deliver higher efficiency because of the way the fuel and air is mixed for burning and superior thermal management.
Such processes—for example, the “swirl mesh lean direct injection”—are well understood in the aviation industry, but Grover and Thangappan are bringing them to the Indian automotive world and for power gensets. They’ve also innovated to use materials that aren’t costly like the aviation-grade materials used in those turbines. And the same combustor can also burn different fuels—from diesel to hydrogen.
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Ashok Leyland partnered with them in October 2022, offering a letter of support and a 9-metre passenger electric bus to test the turbine with. Aerostrovilos is also collaborating with a large Japanese company; the entrepreneurs haven’t revealed its name. A minimum viable product will likely be ready in early 2025, and more likely in the genset segment.
A version that will go into a commercial truck—which needs various certifications—will follow.
And as to local manufacture, “we are aiming for 80 to 90 percent indigenisation, while currently we are at 30 to 40 percent”, Thangappan says. “We think we can get there.”