Kushagra Srivastava, Co-Founder and CEO at Chakr Innovation, posing with an E-bike running on an indigenous battery. Gurugram, India. 17th August, 2023.
Image: Amit Verma
In 2015, following a survey by the World Health Organization (WHO), Delhi had earned the notorious moniker of being the ‘world’s most polluted city’. At the time, Kushagra Srivastava was a second-year engineering student in IIT-Delhi. His faculty members were part of various expert committees and panels working with the government to tackle the air pollution issue, and on campus, there were regular discussions about how students could use their technological prowess towards this issue.
The next year, Srivastava, being a “native Delhi-ite”, formally registered a company called Chakr Innovation, to develop innovations to reduce emissions that contribute towards air pollution. He spent the next 2.5 years into research and development, and in 2019, the product was ready for commercialisation. Chakr had developed what Srivastava calls the world’s first retro-fit emission control device (RECD) for diesel generators. The Chakr Sheild, a patented technology, reportedly captures over 70 percent particulate matter emissions from the exhaust of diesel generators.
“We have already deployed this technology at over 1,000 locations,” says Srivastava, adding that they have more than 150 customers. These include Reliance Industries, the Tata group, ITC, Amazon and the Coca-Cola Company, among others. He adds that so far, over “40,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide has been prevented from going out into the air by deploying this emission control technology at various locations”.
The retro-fit emission control device has received a type approval from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which gives Chakr a strong moat, believes Akshay Panth, chief investment officer of Neev Fund, a climate-focussed private equity fund that led the Series-B fundraise of the cleantech startup in 2021. Anyone else coming into the sector will have to incur “significant amount of capital expenditure, and conduct hours of testing on the devices with the accredited government labs to get these approvals”. He adds that from a customer acquisition perspective, “they have the ability to generate repeat business from existing customers, which validates the product”.
Panth says that Chakr only had a single product at the time of their investment and their thesis was that it had to become a multi-product company. “On the base case, we saw a large market for the emission control device itself to build a strong, stable business in this case, but if they were to add additional products and services, then the multiplier effect becomes significant,” he says.
Srivastava, who started Chakr with two other co-founders, both of whom are no longer with the company, says that the startup has raised about $22 million (close to Rs162 crore) in funding, and has developed other technologies, one which have been commercialised, while two others are in the research and development (R&D) stage. Also read: Smart Joules: Decarbonising one company at a time
Their diesel fuel kit “enables a diesel engine to run on a mix of gas and diesel. It uses 70 percent gas and 30 percent diesel, which reduces emissions”, says Srivastava, adding that the tech has been deployed at various locations in the country. Another innovation that has been in the works for the past three years is an indigenous energy storage technology that Srivastava claims will reduce India’s dependence on lithium-ion, which is currently the default energy storage solution. As of now, India relies heavily on China and Hong Kong for its lithium requirements.
Chakr’s aluminum-based indigenous energy storage technology has an initial capex that is 40 percent less than lithium-ion, and the operational expense is 30 percent less than an internal combustion engine. “This energy storage technology is recyclable, unlike lithium-ion where the batteries you need to dispose of,” Srivastava adds. In electric vehicles, this indigenous storage tech will be non-flammable, unlike lithium-ion, would have three times the range, and would generate zero waste.
The cleantech startup is also developing a software platform for connecting decentralised sources of energy, which is in the R&D stage. Srivastava claims that Chakr is a profitable company, with average revenues of over Rs10 crore a month. As an investor, Panth expects the company to perform strongly and feels that there are strong commercialisation prospects for the solutions that are currently in development.